Friday, July 12, 2013

Poem: We Will Never Die

That summer I lived in a house with five Australians.
We were twenty, all of us unmiserable.
This one guy, Lovejoy,
roamed about, exclaiming our motto,
“We will never die.”
Dawns we’d wade out on our boards
As enameled beasts swam like chariots below
Afternoons we’d doze on the sand,
the beach our cathedral,
the religion we practiced,
without ever having read Whitman,
clearly ourselves.
Evenings we’d party.
Natty Ice for the crew—
six dollars a case, no kidding.
All else was luxury.
Why spoil ourselves—
why waste our talent for low-cost joy?
If called upon, I could sleep
on the juice-splattered linoleum for hours.
Far better, though,
to swig myself loopy,
charge into Hoy’s 5 & 10,
and demand a hermit crab.
“I demand hermit a crab!”
Can you imagine?
That hermit crab,
not necessarily edible, we learned,
didn’t stand a chance,
but its ghostly shell on the windowsill
certainly proved a point.
What is the sacred? we wondered
I wore my JAWS t-shirt every day.
There was that girl, swimming carelessly along.
And there was JAWS, emerging from the depths,
sixteen times her size.
We predicted terror.
We asked questions.
Could we eat it?
How much should we take?
Do they deliver?
One day an octopus washed ashore—
could we, we wondered, thrash it against the jetty?
Imagine the thwack, heard for miles!
We didn’t know about any of this,
but we just might try.
Days passed swiftly.
September neared and we developed
a hermit crab view of life.
Each minute a day, each day a year.
Decade of pancakes.
Epoch of grilled cheese sandwich.
On the beach we pilfered seashells
for the long winter.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Ed Ruscha: Pure Joy

Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas, 1963, Ed Ruscha. Oil on canvas. 64 1/2 x 121 3/4 in
From Calvin Tomkins' recent New Yorker profile of Ed Ruscha:

That same year, Ruscha finished "Standard Station, Amarillo, Texas," the first of his many paintings, drawings, and prints of gas stations, whose dramatic, raked perspective came from an effect he had observed in old black and white films.

"You know those movies where a train starts out in the lower-right corner and gradually fills the screen?" he asked. "The gas station is on a diagonal like that, from lower right to upper left. It also had something to do with teachings I picked up in art school, about dividing the picture plane. I didn't really know what I was up to then, or what direction to take. I was just following these little urges. It was pure joy, to be able to do something like that."

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Nice Stride: Wilt Chamberlain at 17

I saw this image tonight on the Old Images of Philadelphia Facebook page: Wilt, a 17-year-old senior in high school, running track for Overbrook High. Look at that stride!

Friday, June 28, 2013

Confessions of a Selfish Man

Who knew that back pain could so compromise your spirit? Last night, after dinner, I lied prone on our couch, moaning somewhat theatrically but sincerely, as Karen cleaned dishes, wiped the counters, bathed Ella, and then sat in a rocking chair with Ella, humming lullabies, until Ella fell asleep. Finally, at 11:00 PM, her ambition getting the best of her, Karen attempted to pack boxes.

Boxes litter our apartment. The place is a mess.

Ever so often, I called out, "My wife." Ever so often, she dutifully arrived, and performed whatever small service I asked of her. Please shut the window. Please turn the fan down one notch. Please hand me my phone. Please turn the fan down one more notch. Please open the window, just a bit.

I slept fitfully on the couch, waking at least once per hour to pee. From the bedroom, I heard the occasional cry: Ella waking in the night, and crying out, as she does, for Mama. And I heard Karen, whispering, as she does, crying in her own way, for the sleep that has neglected her for 15 months now. 

I called out of work at 6:05 AM this morning. I hated to do so. By 6:30 AM, Ella and Karen had awoke, and I had moped to the bed to join them. By 7:00 AM, I had moped back to the couch, and Ella had cried out continuously for ten minutes, demanding a bottle--or so Karen thought. By 7:01 AM, one of Ella's bottles, full of chilled goat milk, sat on the hard wood floor, abandoned, the trusty goat milk already curdling in the heat. By 7:08 AM, another bottle, now warmed, sat on the hard wood floor, abandoned, the trusty goat milk...etc.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Good Drunken Sleep on the Beach: A Men's Summer Style Guide

Standing at a urinal in the King of Prussia Mall, I faced a choice: to suffer certain embarrassment or run from it. And reader, I faced it.

First, I should say: if I had not visited the bathroom, the choice might've not occurred to me at all. As it was, I stood at my urinal, happily envisioning my recent J. Crew purchase, when I discovered: I was not wearing my underwear.

I admit, for me, “going commando” is not uncommon. Whatever the prevailing opinion, I prefer the graceful ease of minimal clothes. In fact, I often feel that my underwear--Stretch Cotton Sport Trunk, Banana Republic: $19.50--confines my spirit. And I need to feel free, reader, in my heart and soul--and elsewhere. But this day I was certain: I had been wearing underwear. (It was a cool spring day, about three weeks ago, breezy and grey: underwear weather.)

I suppose I should mention my purchase now: J. Crew's 9” Stanton Short in Irish Linen ($75). Color: Amalfi Blue. When worn for a mere hour, the shorts develop the characteristic rumpled look of linen--as if worn to sleep, on the beach, like Rimbaud:

“The best thing of all is a good drunken sleep on the beach.”

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

The Gallant Me: Learning From Illness

I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in May, 2002. I am currently writing a memoir, and recently I wrote about my this experience. At the risk of annoying my wife (and perhaps you), who thinks it's pretentious to quote one's own writing, I'm quoting the memoir as a prelude to this blog.

A gentle warning: Over time, I've discovered that some of my friends and family simply do not want to read intimate descriptions of my illnesses. To me, the writing below is benign, but it might be a bit too intimate for some readers. 

From my memoir...

To confirm a diagnosis of ulcerative colitis, a patient often receives a colonoscopy. The less said about the “prep” the better, but the procedure itself, eased by a sedative and pain medicine, is benign. One wakes after, without memory, and with a spectacular urge to release the air pumped into the colon. I remember stumbling to the bathroom, naked but for my boxers and gown, farting magnificently and laughing, then stumbling back to my bed confident that the alarming symptoms I had experienced before the procedure had been healed by comedy.

Standing beside my father, my gastroenterologist, a gentle and compact Indian man, waited by the bed.

“You have ulcerative colitis,” he said.

I felt he hated me.

He went on. Treatment required a routine of anti-inflammatory pills and enemas—a routine I might have to follow my entire life.

“Do you understand?” he asked.

I looked to my father. I could see how hard he worked to conceal his concern, and winced at how the effort seemed to inspire the opposite: worry just cascaded from his eyes.

“When will the medicine work?” I asked.

“Perhaps two weeks,” my doctor said. “Perhaps more.”

It was Thursday—a day before Memorial Day weekend. I pictured myself lounging on the beach, staring out over the jetties, tan and wearing a white v-neck, drinking a cold Red Stripe in the evening. Now before me stretched two weeks, perhaps more, of nightly enemas.

“And then what?” I asked.

Following the routine, my doctor said, my symptoms might disappear. Thereafter, I might suffer relapses that may or may not require surgery to remove my colon.

I do not remember if I made the decision at that moment, or later that day, when, keeping a promise to my father, I filled my prescription and discovered, listed first in side effects: colitis. In any case, I refused the prognosis, as well as the drugs, and commenced a journey to heal myself—a fifteen-month experiment, absent any conventional medical guidance whatsoever, that effectively ended (or evolved) midway through my honeymoon, when my new wife admitted me to the ER at the University Hospital ClĂ­nic de Barcelona.

To begin, that summer, each Tuesday evening, I visited Rosemary Flannery, a psychotherapist certified in the Rubenfeld Synergy Method, a holistic approach that uses gentle touch, Gestalt therapy, active listening, and laughter to inspire healing. In October, I visited a frightfully thin Ayurvedic healer who sat with me for a minute as we both chewed a bite of date fifty times each. He had left his office window open to the breeze, and I felt my Vata imbalance as a new symptom, but I warmed when he told me that he, too, had experienced colitis, and that I, like him, might recover fully with proper chewing, loose clothing, and ghee. Finally, in the New Year, I ordered a two-month supply of Ulcerin Compound I and Ulcerin Compound II from a doctor in Delhi, India whose website,, cited studies and convincing testimonials.

All of this seemed to help, a bit, but no single treatment, or combination, alleviated the most fearsome symptoms. Prolific blood. Bewildering fatigue. And joint pain that felt as if my very bones had confessed a humiliating character weakness.


Since then, I have learned to "heal myself," or, at the very least, to treat my symptoms "naturally" without conventional treatments like steroids, potent anti-inflammatories, or immunosuppresant drugs. For most of the year, I maintain remission, suffering no symptoms. And yet, each Spring, sometime in March, I suffer a relapse. (I have written about this before, here, and elsewhere.) The severity varies from year to year, but each relapse inevitably occasions the return of the fearsome symptoms listed above. I use that word, fearsome, because the physical symptoms also occasion emotional and psychological horrors.  In Re-Visioning Psychology, one of the books that inspired my initial recovery, James Hillman writes: "Whenever a symptom is immediately carried by fantasy into its worst potential, into the incurable possibility."

Last year, I relapsed a month before my wife's due date, March 22, and immediately fell into perilous habits. Fantasizing my own "incurables," I wasted hours browsing online forums. Earth Clinic. Cure Zone. Health Boards. As my hunger evaporated, I refined my diet. Each night, I woke drenched in sweat. Each night, I lied in bed next to Karen, wide-awake, sometimes for an hour or more, with my hand on her belly, waiting for a little kick. I remember worrying at the time that I was unfit for fatherhood. I felt I lacked the basics: health, energy, confidence. How could I care for others when I so desperately needed others to care for me?

Ella was born eight days early, March 14, a Wednesday. The few days after her birth, in and out of the hospital, remain a blur to me. But I vividly remember her first night home, how I sat across from Karen and Ella at our kitchen table, devouring roast chicken.

“Are you even hungry?” Karen asked.

From the TV, West Side Story lit the room red. I simply continued eating, without speaking. 

“That’s good,” Karen said, smiling. “You’re hungry.”

Only later did I realize what she was hinting at. A quick reprisal confirmed: my symptoms, moderate to severe on the Tuesday before Ella's birth, had evaporated. I had been fixated on these symptoms for about a month, but in the immediate aftermath of Ella's birth, I did not notice my remission. That I hadn’t noticed told me something about how fatherhood might change me.


This year my physical symptoms seem worse than years before. I wake feeling depleted, achy, unwell. It might take me all morning to recover my sense of equilibrium. At work, I've struggled to maintain my composure, my high spirits. And I worry, as always, that this time is different: now the illness is here to stay, and it will kill me. I recognize that this way of thinking is absurd, especially considering the evidence of prior years, but I find myself powerless when face-to-face with bright red blood.

This year, however, instead of fixating on my symptoms, I've been trying to think about what is required of me. I wonder: is it possible, as a sick person, to live an imaginative life? Is it possible to face the bright red blood with a light-heart, or a steely determination, as I imagine a gallant man might do? And what might that determination look like? Mostly, I wonder: what does Karen require of me, and Ella? By doing so, I forget my symptoms; I evolve, if only for a moment, from my typical egocentric/body-centric mode to something else. I become, however briefly, the type of person I admire: other-focused, determined, well.

This is how the gallant me looks, at least for a brief moment from 6:30--7:30 AM this morning: He moves from his bathroom horror scene to the bedroom, where Karen and Ella lay in bed, asleep, and he dresses for the day. He slips on his favorite brown pants with the pink back pocket liners. He slips on his blue boat shoes. He slips on his pink and blue gingham dress shirt. Then he moves back to the kitchen, to empty the dishwasher and prep the dinner. An hour later, when he hears the first wakeful peeps from the bedroom, he makes a show of stomping down the hallway so that his daughter will know: Daddy is coming.

At my best, this is who I choose to be: the energetic, excitable guy wearing some combination of brown, pink, and blue. The dutiful husband. The fun-loving dad. And this is my choice, isn't it? Like everyone else, I  choose, day-to-day, moment-to-moment, who to be.

It's been nearly eleven years since my diagnosis. Since then, I've also been diagnosed with type-1 diabetes. Dealing with both (as well as other autoimmune conditions) often feels overwhelming. And yet, I must admit,  like some video game character searching for an elusive golden key, each year I feel as if I've conquered a new world, moved one step closer. Each year, I learn.

This year I'm thinking about last year's spontaneous remission, how my symptoms evaporated all at once in the face of overwhelming emotion. I suppose I could just call it love--overwhelming, indeed.  I'm also thinking about what this year's relapse might teach me. But mostly I'm thinking about Karen, and Ella, and what I must do. Perhaps for a moment in the bathroom, when confronting blood, I am the ill person. But, I've learned, illness does not necessarily need to guide my day. I am capable of admiring myself--when I choose to. And of course, this choice is available at any time.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Recent Personal Obsessions: Everlane, Swimsuits, Memoir

A recent obsession of mine is Everlane, a "new retail experience" that sells luxury clothes at "truly disruptive prices." So far, I've ordered a white terry cloth sweatshirt, two t-shirts, and a white oxford shirt--and all have become instant favorites.

A succinct Everlane review: the oxford has "disrupted" my life. The fit is streamlined, and flattering (to my eye) to my thin silhouette, although the sleeve length is a bit short. As long as I wear my sleeves rolled, the oxford is a perfect option for the price: $55.

Just yesterday, following a panicky impulse, I took three slim-fit button-up shirts from Banana Republic to the tailor for further slimming. I plan to eventually tailor all of my button-up. I must admit, though, I am somewhat worried about my button-ups. The conversation with the tailor, a thin, clearly tired Asian woman, was brief and inexplicable. I hope I conveyed what I needed to convey.

Anyway. Here's cool picture of Vogue's former editor Mary Russel from Everlane's Tumblr:

Friday, March 1, 2013

Recent Personal Obession: Chippewa Boots

Regular readers (reader?) might know: I can get a little obsessive. I've always been obsessive about clothes. And recently, especially, I've become obsessive about exploring and wearing high quality clothes--to the point of almost ruining my relationships with Ella and Karen. Take my boots. This winter I decided to buy new boots. Each night I spent hours researching the exact best boots. Here's what I did: First, I looked around to see what I liked--what best fit the way I feel about myself and my style. Then I read forums, style sites. After this, I choose five or six options. Then, finally, for every shoe, I read every single comment on Zappos. The shoes I ended up buying, the Chippewa American Handcrafted GQ Apache Lacer Boot, had 53 reviews on Amazon--I read every single one. From the reviews of my boot, I learned that you should order one size down, and that the shoes run a bit narrow (a point I ignored to disastrous consequence). Finally, I priced shop, and ended up buying my boots from Amazon.

All that research, and obsessive comment reading, took many hours--hours that I probably should've spent reading, or writing, or spending time with Karen and Ella. But when I got the shoes, I knew I had the best pair I ever owned--I loved the look, feel, everything. A succinct Chippewa Boot review: wearing the boots, standing over my baby daughter, I feel more powerful and manly.

But they were definitely narrow, and soon I realized that they were simply too narrow to wear comfortably. This led to a month-long odyssey. I took the shoes to three (three!) different cobblers to no fucking avail, and then finally, after contacting the company, and exhaustively researching shoe stretchers, I bought a $30 shoe stretcher that did the trick. Now I wear the boots comfortably--and I probably will for years.

This obsessiveness has also helped me learn the necessary information about ulcerative colitis--so that I essentially live symptom free. It's also helped my writing. I believe: Research + experience = decisions that you don't regret. Especially with clothes.