On Gardenias and Other Cathectic Objects

Last spring, I bought a new house with a landscaped front yard. By the end of summer, fifty percent of the boxwoods had died. Last weekend, we finally replaced those dead bushes with some blue hydrangea and daisy gardenias. (Yeah, I’m that neighbor.) The gardenia bushes were already flowering when we bought them even though it’s only mid-spring and they’re typically summer bloomers. On the way home from the nursery, the flowers’ perfume enveloped my car, bringing up images of my grandmother. I could practically hear her stories about the good old days in the Bronx of her youth, her Os twisting into that tight “oi” sound as she set the stage for life in 1935. Gardenias were her favorite flowers. She wore them to high school dances, the blooms so sweet she didn’t need any eau’ de toilet. By … Read More

The Ribbon Test

Some physicians feel that real illness is sanctioned by ribbons, colors, and celebrity spokespersons. Read about the challenges of life with an unsanctioned illness in The Ribbon Test published by Streetlight.

Half-Time

Twenty years ago, I lost my brother to suicide during a bitterly cold winter when the sun refused to shine. He was twenty years, eight months, and two days old—as old as he will ever be in this lifetime. I was twenty-two and believed I was on the cusp of something profound. Grief wasn’t the destination I expected, but it’s the one I’ve learned to cultivate into something profound and beautiful. For the most part, I have a deep sense of peace regarding my brother’s death. I know that like 90% of people who die by suicide, Joe had a diagnosable, treatable mental illness—in his case severe depression. I know everyone involved did the best they could and that we all loved each other. I know that life is not a guarantee. Each day is a precious gift. Today is … Read More

Reflections on Justice

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King Jr. As a kid, I used to watch the black and white movie about Martin Luther King’s life that played on PBS. My brothers and I leaned in to the thirteen-inch screen and winced with each crack of the baton or spray of a fire hose. We were mesmerized by the courage shown by the civil rights activists in the face of hatred and oppression. Every year I asked myself the same question: Could I be that brave? We live in dark times. Hate spills out of the airwaves and into living rooms. Oppressions I will never fully understand happen every day. Rights may be taken away while corruption spreads its wings. If I focus on … Read More

Psychic Distance

In my high school biology class we sliced off transparent films of onion skin with our fingernails then slipped them under wet-mount slides in order study plant cells. My onion was red. I dyed it with a single drop of methylene blue so the nuclei would be visible. As kids around me chomped gum and slipped notes to each other, I pressed my forehead to the eyepiece, certain I was about to witness a miracle. With a few adjustments to the focus, the plant’s cells appeared. Rows of nuclei stared back at me. It was like looking into the onion’s soul. Sometime editing feels like working under a microscope. We lean into the page, hoping our intense study will reveal the story’s genetic code. Strings of words are analyzed, sentences built then tossed out. It’s easy to believe that composing … Read More

How the Trust Guy Opened My Heart

Despite Saturday’s sweltering temperatures, The Trust Guy was on the downtown mall. Pedestrians meandering between shops and restaurants changed their pace as they neared his sign which read “I’ll Trust You. Will You Trust Me?” Some arced away, shuffling their feet across the brick walkway while shaking their heads. Others took a few steps closer and stared at the blindfolded man who waited to be hugged. A few reached out their arms then stepped shyly away. Rain or shine, David Reid comes to the downtown mall for two hours each week to offer hugs free of charge. A member of a local mindfulness organization, Reid does this to promote compassion. He’s a balding guy with gray curls and a wrinkle-free forehead who is unafraid to be completely vulnerable in front of a crowd. For the past three weeks I’ve been … Read More

Second Draft Revisions: Rolling with Resistance

In 2014, I attended a book talk with Dr. Rosenthal, the psychiatrist who first described seasonal affective disorder and the author of The Gifts of Adversity. During the question and answer period, an audience member asked him what he felt was the most important aspect of writing a book. His answer: You have to have something you really want to say because writing a book takes a lot time. It’s easy to get sidetracked. As I’m working on the second draft of my memoir I’m internalizing this wisdom. I consider revision to be the Act Two of the writing process—you know, the part with all of the obstacles. There’s the flagging motivation, the boy am I sick of this feeling that sometimes tickles the back of my throat, the pressures on my time. When writing the first draft, everything felt … Read More