The Great Stoned Letter!

April 8, 2011 at 11:56 pm (By Amba)

Here, have a contact high.  My brother and I pass this back and forth between us when we need to laugh until our noses run.  I wrote it to him in 1978.  I was 32 and down in Florida alone working on someone else’s book.  He must have been 18 or 19.  Never having been a big-league pothead, having abstained completely since meeting Mr. Clean six years before, and being in the midst of an episode of my trademark ambivalence (torn between the generations of a neighbor family, friends with the long-winded middle-aged father, call him “Jake,” but hot for the airheaded late-teenage son, “Billy”)—well, it was a recipe for—well, you’ll see.  (Punctuation scrupulously verbatim.  Only the third page is numbered:  -2- )

*    *    *    *    *

Weds. PM

OK KID YOU AST FER IT — your sister is now WASTED — so now you get to see the real thing (not just a contact high).

This was grown in Jake’s back yard — he took me up to his house just to visit — hospitably received — Lorna gave me a bourbon & water “like your dad” — then Billy got me stoned — stoneder than I’ve ever been.  Still am — waiting for the parents (Tommy from the Marina was there too —) to arrive, yet! & I have had this incredible insight that all our attitudes — emotions are just passing phenomena that “flit through the mind and are gone (pardon me, I could make a more civilized parody of writing) — wha? (this is really primitive!  Call the whitejackets and strait me away) — Real Zen — (I’m sitting here giggling like an idiot) — well, in turn tonight I have thought — “Do I want to talk to Jake” or “do I want to flirt with Billy” and “Oh God, what a waste of time, I’d rather talk to Jake” and “How can I be sitting here like this while mom and dad are maybe at the house with hurt feelings” — and “Jake & Lorna will think I’m crazy” and “This is frightening” & “this is fun” & “these guys think I’m nuts — am I going way, way out where they can’t follow” & telling Billy I want to go tell his father I don’t know which generation I belong to & etc.etc. etc. and realizing what a spiky, yellow thing my mind is and what a stoned comment that is, neat, I’ll put that down, it’s as good as anything — and — embarrassment, shame at my own silly conduct (I didn’t do anything mind you) — I just had these evil intentions which are so INAPPROPRIATE and beneath me and anyway I think I’d rather belong to the older generation and “what’s the difference” and should I be exposing this aspect of me to my kid brother and why not and — ATTITUDES!  ATTITUDES!  ATTITUDES.  Postures the mind takes like a dancer — that’s all.  I shouldn’t send this letter. — Why not? — That’s a Puritan attitude you’re attached to.  They are, on the whole, getting stronger.  Coming into the fore.  Your (my) rebellious attitudes are weakening.  (Why am I wasting my time doing this — getting stoned with two nice, pleasant dopes — one of whom has about two shreds of future manly style, just enough to flash in — STOP?  Why am I saying any of this (fear — wild giggles — ) WHY SAY ANYTHING??

Why does the mind keep moving all the time?  Like a hootchie kootchie dancer?

Can anyone live out here where nothing matters?  We build our houses of matter — EVERYTHING IS AN ATTITUDE, don’t you see??  This letter is both “total put”-on” and “utterly serious” and “neither.”

When mother & Daddy come — I will click into the Mother & Daddy attitude.  You know — I sense myself hardening — choosing a form — a set of attitudes rather permanent — a “character” — and a rather Puritanical one.  (Never forget these are just attitudes too.  Even “it’s an attitude” is an attitude?  “I won’t be able to do this much longer” I was going to say — then I realized that’s a self-reinforcing attitude of the attitude — Why not? — because I’ve already decided to become that person who can’t.  That’s scary — but why is it scary?  What forces drive us towards those attitudes rather than these?

No wonder people can’t work in this state — They’d just keep saying “Why?” (although “Why not” is equally true

It’s all so arbitrary

Character is:

a) anatomy

b.) Destiny

c.) conditioning

4.) cancel above orders

The “younger generation” have differently structured minds, I think.  They find this easier to take.  They don’t seem to get so “fractured” — I feel as if the rock bottom truth is:  no reason for anything.  Still of course I am attached to certain things — attitudes — & that set of attachments constitute my “character.”  It doesn’t have to insist


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J Shows Up Again . . .

April 6, 2011 at 6:12 pm (By Amba)

. . . in a dream of another one of his guy friends.

Bo (a major character in our semiautobiographical thriller Brains & Brawn, if you’d like to meet him) dreamt that he went to J’s old apartment in New York and there was J, eating a slice of pizza.  (You’ll remember that my old friend Margie, who’s here helping me pack right now, wrote to me that J would no longer be hungry because “the soul doesn’t have a stomach.”  My two-word response was, “His does.”)  Bo says, “I thought you were dead!” and J puts his finger to his lips and says, “Sshhhhh!  I’m just pretending to be dead.  I don’t want anyone to know I’m alive except you.”  Then I came in (apparently the other exception to the rule), and the three of us started shooting the breeze just like old times.

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A Preview of Coming Attractions

April 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm (By Amba)

This, sent by Peter Hoh, makes me ridiculously happy. I’ve been thinking of my apartment like this anyway:

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April 1, 2011 at 8:59 pm (By Amba)

The advertising-free magazine of writing The Sun, published in Chapel Hill, has an invitational section called “Readers Write” that throws open a different resonant topic each month — upcoming ones include “Paying Attention,” “Rumors,” “Cheap Thrills,” and (still open) “Authority,” “Saying Too Much,” and “Boxes.” Last fall I sent the following as a submission to “Singing,” but probably too late to meet the deadline. I’ve been encouraged by my brother and my mother to post it here.

*      *     *

Do we ever really know our parents?  I was so stuck to my mother as the central axis and problem of my life that it took me decades to back off far enough to get a good look at her.  A raven-haired natural beauty, capricious, temperamental, given to impatience and depression, she held me spellbound, first by “rejecting” me as a small child (suffering from prolonged postpartum blues, she turned me over to her mother during a two-year, three-times-a-week psychoanalysis), then by “dominating” me as an adolescent (she was so beautiful and vivacious that I thought even my own friends liked her better than me).  She was not the sort of warm, nurturing mother who makes you feel cherished and secure; on the other hand, she gave me—and the five siblings who followed that successful, for her, psychoanalysis—some great things.  She let us play in the gushing gutters in our oldest underwear after thunderstorms, and she sang to us at bedtime.  She had a frail but ringing soprano (she said a high school teacher had called her “the ghost tenor”) and a large repertory of tragic Child ballads.  I can still hear her voice singing, “There was a ship/ sailing on the Lowland Sea /And the name of that ship/ was the Golden Vanity …” When I came home from college for holidays we’d sometimes sing together, me shyly carrying the melody while she supplied the harmony:  “Lo, how a rose e’er blooming …”

I vividly remember the first time I got a hit of the mystery of who she really was:  my hand closed around her wrist in a swimming pool in Mexico and I felt how much smaller her bones were than mine, and was struck by the paradox of fragility and fervor that was her essence.  I was 25.  The next year I did what Jean Shinoda Bolen describes in Goddesses in Everywoman:  “the archetypal ‘nice girl from a good family’” got involved with a “tough, streetwise man” as “the means through which a Persephone woman separates from a dominating mother.” Romantic love and babies had been my mother’s turf and, as much as I idealized and longed for them, I scrupulously chose a life course that would deny me them.  Instead, I let myself be ravished into the underworld of a Gulag survivor’s wise, traumatized psyche and eventually became its queen.

Last spring I stole a few days from taking care of my now disabled husband and visited my parents in Florida:  92 and 86, still in love.  My mom is still beautiful, wrinkles and all.  She’s fraying around the edges a little cognitively, but more hummingbird-brilliant than ever at the core.  I think she’s burning so much fuel on the thoughts that really matter that she can’t be bothered with peripherals like where the keys are.  It’s already happening to me.  My brain, though not my temperament, is so much like hers that I consider it a preview of what I have to look forward to.  She had gone on the Internet, found the words to Hoagy Carmichael’s sinuous, sneering “Hong Kong Blues” from To Have and Have Not, and memorized them all.  Right then and there she sang the whole song for me—“He got twenty years privilege taken awa-ay from hi-im/ when he kicked old Buddha’s gong”—and then cast me a look of such intimate, conspiratorial merriment that I thought, God, she’s irresistible.  I don’t remember what it was we then started belting out together that caused my sister, trying to sleep in the back bedroom with her husband, to come out and ask us to please shut up.

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April 1, 2011 at 7:53 pm (By Amba)

I owe the title of this post to The Anchoress, whose first son, when he was little, would peer into his parents’ faces and ask, “Are you ‘appy?”

The Anchoress writes a provocative post about that question, which two nuns with microphones asked random people on the streets of Chicago in 1968 (clips from the resultant documentary are in Elizabeth’s post, along with the schedule for the documentary itself on Chicago’s PBS station).  It turned out not to be such an easy question to answer.  The Anchoress provides one answer, though, that I strongly relate to:  she links happiness to gratitude.

I e-mailed her (forgive me for being lazy and pasting instead of posting; it’s actually because I have so much else to do):

It’s a marvelous question, and suggested answer.  Definitely, focusing on how much has been given, rather than how much has been (and will be) taken away, is a reliable formula for happiness.  I wonder whether it is a matter of will and choice, or temperament.  Some people just chronically think the other way.  Is it just a habit?  How does that originate?  Maybe there’s a neurochemical predisposition, but at some point the habit gets established — possibly because it works as a twisted strategy for getting one’s needs fulfilled as best one can in situations where the direct approach is verboten.  “Poor me” can be a perversely gratifying identity.  And then the habit changes the neurochemistry.

Epigenetics is now demonstrating that our experiences and choices can change us right down to the genes: that is, the interplay between our experiences and habits actually alters gene expression.  And it seems likely that changing our habits can actually change gene expression.  (I suspect that practicing karate has changed me that deeply.)  Could chronically unhappy people — who may be resigned to “This is just the way I am,” either because of inborn temperament, indelible trauma, or ingrained adaptive strategies — change themselves through a practice of gratitude?  (This is what is implied by the Japanese form of psychotherapy called Naikan.)

The current mainstream assumption is that people are at the mercy of their given neurochemistry — whether given by nature, nurture, or both — and often the intervention of first resort is pharmaceutical.

I’m sure Pfizer et al. are grateful.

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Two Beauties

April 1, 2011 at 7:52 pm (By Amba)

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