Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Mucho craziness on the home front today, so I'm going to post on Saturday, if all else goes well.
In the meantime, had a great great weekend at the South Carolina Book Festival this past weekend:
Left to right, back row: Jim Born, Me, Paula Millen (festival head extraordinaire), Paula Benson (goddess of all things), Debby Johnson (who will lead next years' Parade of Authors in fringed chaps and vest), Debby's fabulous spouse Jim Johnson. Seated: Mary Harris (who took care of us all and always knew where the Krispy Kremes were), and the effervescent Curtis Clark.
The photo is a bit blurry as I think the very nice waiter who took it had also sampled the margaritas that evening....
Film at 11.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
JUDGE LARRY (THE WEEPER) SEIDLIN
"What about it? Are all Florida judges clowns?"
That's what my Left Coast pals are asking after the bizarre performance last week of Broward County Probate Judge Larry Seidlin, who presided over the Anna Nicole Smith Traveling Circus and Freak Show.
Who better to answer the question? My credentials: I covered the courts in South Florida for The Miami Herald, back in the days when people read newspapers. I practiced law in South Florida for 17 years, appearing in front of some judges who were brilliant, others who were dim, some hard-working, some lazy, some conscientious, and some downright crooked.
In every Miami courtroom, a sign hangs above the bench. "We who labor here seek only the truth." In my first novel, To Speak for the Dead, tough-guy lawyer Jake Lassiter says:
"There oughta be a footnote. 'Subject to the truth being concealed by lying witnesses, distorted by sleazy lawyers, and excluded by inept judges.'”
Which brings us back to Judge Larry Seidlin, who cried when he announced his ruling after several days of malapropisms, misstatements of the law, and general chaos in the court.
(My personal favorite was the Judge referring to the deceased as "Anna Nicole Miller." Well, she liked to shop, right?)
But I come to praise The Weeper, not to bury him. In my opinion, the guy has a good heart. No one may ever confuse him with Brandeis or Holmes, but he means well.
See, I have a conflict of interest. My wife, the lovely Renee, was married by Judge Seidlin. No, not married to him. Larry Seidlin presided over Renee's marriage to a person other than my manly self. She has also played tennis with the Judge, considers him a friend, and has cautioned me, in stern legal language, not to say anything negative about His Honor.
This came after I asked Renee if I could post photos of Judge Seidlin presiding at her marriage. She informed me, both orally and in writing, that should I do so, she would sue me for invasion of privacy, infliction of mental distress, and violation of the Treaty of Versailles. Not only that, no more bok choy in the wok, which frankly, was almost enough to make me violate her strict instructions. But...no photos and not one negative comment.
I will relate this one tidbit, however. At the crucial point in her wedding, the Judge asked: "Do you, Renee, promise to love, cherish and keep Carl healthy so that he can play racquetball with me?"
And that's it, because I do not want to have an injunction served against me or find my tequila laced with arsenic.
As you can tell, I have a somewhat conflicted relationship with the justice system. Yes, I'm cynical. But I also retain hope that the words carved in the granite -- Equal Justice Under Law -- really mean something.
This month, I tried to express this ambivlance in a short article published in "The Penn Stater." I'm re-printing the piece here, which also gives me an excuse to show Old Main in the snow two weeks ago.
DISORDER IN THE COURT
“Has the jury reached a verdict?”
The words send a jolt of electricity up my spine.
“We have, Your Honor.”
There’s a ringing in my ears. Will I even hear what they say?
”The clerk will publish the verdict.”
My palms are sweaty. And I’m only the lawyer. Imagine the guy sitting next to me.
“We, the jury, find the defendant...”
For the past 16 years, I’ve been trying to capture that moment. The tension, the hope, the fear. And while I write fiction, to a large degree, I’ve borrowed from real life for my courtroom thrillers.
A week after graduating from Penn State, I started work as a criminal court reporter with The Miami Herald. Never been in a courtroom, I didn’t know habeas corpus from an bottlenose porpoise. A prosecutor took pity, showed me around, and taught me a few Latin expressions. (“Mero Motu,” it turns out, is not a businessman’s greeting in Tokyo, but rather an act undertaken on the court’s own motion).
I began having lunch with the prosecutor and two of his colleagues. They wowed me with their war stories, singing paeans to the majesty of the law and the high calling of public service. So sure enough, I went to law school, and my three prosecutor pals became judges. Now, flash forward 20 years. Those judges must be deans of the profession, right? Nope. All three are in federal prison, convicted of bribery, one of them for “selling” the name of a confidential informant so the defendant could arrange his murder.
So is it any wonder that I’m cynical about the halls of justice, where as Lenny Bruce once complained, the only justice is in the halls? Is it a surprise that judges in my books are usually lame-brained and occasionally crooked? (One judge, in feeble attempt to be fair, simply alternates rulings on objections. "Sustained." “Overruled.” “Sustained.” “Overruled.”)
But back to the Miami courthouse in 1970 where, as a fledgling reporter, I also made friends with the Courthouse Gang, a multi-ethnic posse of retirees who showed up every day for the free entertainment. My buddies all knew a good story and invariably guided me to the right courtroom and filled me in on testimony I missed. The Gang lives on in fiction. Myron (The Maven) Mendelsohn, Teresa Toraño, and Cadillac Johnson use their unique skills to help the squabbling lawyers in my “Solomon vs. Lord” novels.
The last trial I covered as a reporter was a doozy. Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, was charged with indecent exposure for exposing himself at a Miami concert. One of the prosecutors was a mini-skirted former beauty queen named Ellen Morphonios, renowned for her ribald sense of humor. Just before opening statements, Ellen told me her trial strategy: “I’m gonna have the clerk stamp that dirtbag’s equipment and call it ‘State’s Exhibit One.’” Hey, you don’t hear that on COURT TV.
Courtrooms may look like churches, trimmed with mahogany and exuding an air of solemnity. And sure, some proceedings are deadly dull, but there’s a surprising amount of humor between bench and bar.
In my first year practicing law, I tried a case before a colorful old judge named Frederick Barad. I thought I was doing great, but in closing argument, I noticed that a juror was sound asleep.
“Your Honor,” I whispered, gesturing toward juror number three, who was snoring loudly.
“What do you want from me?” the judge replied. “You put him to sleep. You wake him up.”
Monday, February 26, 2007
Thursday, February 22nd was my father's birthday. My George Smiley was born in Missouri, the youngest of four brothers. His mother died when he was two and he and another brother were given up for adoption by their birth father because they were too young to work. When he was three, George’s adoptive father died and his life plunged into darkness. At sixteen he left home, traveling to the state capitol to locate his adoption papers, which he meticulously copied by hand. With that information in his possession, he set off to find his brothers and his birth father, wandering west, riding the rails and working at odd jobs to survive: farm hand, laborer, gas station attendant.
George mostly kept his emotions to himself but if you bothered to look, you could often see the pain in his eyes and in his furrowed brow. He never told me he loved me but by all accounts he did. There was a lot I didn’t know about how he felt, but there was one thing I knew beyond a doubt. He trusted me.
My father never graduated from high school. He was blue-collar all the way. But he was smart and he never feared to try the impossible. I often teased him that John Le Carré had stolen his name and used it for the hero of his spy novels. He used to smile, even though I knew he had never heard of John Le Carré and would never read one of his books. In fact, I never saw my father read any book, but he was proud when he learned I’d written a novel that would soon be published.
On April 16, 1999, I received one of many faxes my father sent to me over the years. This one outlined his last wishes. It read: “I want my ashes flown to Hawaii and spread over the blue Pacific in the trade winds to float in the cosmos over time forever.” Over the years those faxes became more passionate and poetic but the destination was always the same—Hawaii.
He’d never been to the islands, and I wasn’t sure why he wanted to end up in a place he had never seen, but he did and that was good enough for me. The last time we discussed the subject I remember looking him square in the eye and promising that no matter what happened I would honor his wishes. The only problem was I never expected to act on that promise, because I didn’t think my father would ever die.
In December 2002 I was visiting my parents. My father had been ill for a few days, nothing serious his doctor said. In fact, he didn’t even want to go to hospital. I had to convince him to do so. One night I stayed late, visiting with him. He was in bed. He was cold. He hated being cold. I tucked the blankets tight around his neck and put my hand on his forehead, like my mother had done to me when I was a child.
“I’m in trouble,” he said.
I was puzzled because his tone was so matter-of-fact, so I asked him what he meant. He wouldn’t say more. He just repeated the words, “I’m in trouble.” I assured him he’d be okay; the doctor had said so. He responded with “Everything is in your hands now.”
He died the next morning while I was at Wal-Mart buying him a pair of slippers. As he had instructed, I arranged for his cremation, but a year passed before my mother could bear to part with his ashes.
George was a veteran of World War II. He didn't talk much about those experiences, except to Will whom he adored. The feeling was mutual. Will wanted an honorable memorial service for an honorable man so he arranged for a Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence and Special Operations for the U.S. Pacific Fleet to take us out in his private boat where we held a traditional military burial-at-sea ceremony at the mouth of Pearl Harbor not far from the Arizona Memorial and the Missing Man Formation sculpture at Hickam Field where one of his brothers had been stationed for a time.
Performing the service was a retired Navy man who was also a lay minister of the Lutheran Church. Before the committal, I said a final goodbye to my father, fulfilling the promise I’d made to him so many years before.
I threw two orchid leis on the water and watched as his ashes floated out to sea, kissed by a warm rain, drifting “over the blue Pacific in the trade winds to float in the cosmos over time forever.” A moment later a honu broke the surface of the water.
In the Hawaiian culture a honu represents the cosmos.
P.S. CONGRATULATIONS to Our J!!!!! Her fourth novel MESSENGER OF TRUTH has just been nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Novel. I'll be at the awards ceremony in May, cheering her on!
Here she is with one of her horse pals (not Sara). I'm sure they're all celebrating right about now.
Friday, February 23, 2007
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to confess that I am not a great fan of the monarchy. Yes, I know, I know, even though I think Helen Mirren did a great job with those wellies and that headscarf, I believe that as long as there is a monarchy in its present form, there will exist an unacceptable elitism in Britain based on the provenance of the family from whence you came and how you speak. And I know that in Cool Britannia that’s all supposed to have gone now, but sorry, it hasn’t. It’s simply camouflaged. We’re still all subjects, not citizens.
So, speaking of camouflage, in a rare moment of admiration for the British royals, I can only say, “Hats off to Harry.” The third in line to the throne, Prince Harry, will be deployed to Iraq with his regiment in the near future, where he will command an armored patrol. Said Harry, “"There's no way I'm going to put myself through Sandhurst (military college) and then sit on my arse back home while my boys are out fighting.” I’m sure the SAS troops (very, very highly trained special forces) who will have to try to keep an eye on him are probably wishing he had chosen to be a right royal layabout, because clearly the lad will be a bullet magnet once he’s over there. The royal family, that most elite of the elite, will once more have more in common with the rank and file than the elected officials, because they’ll know what it’s like to have someone you love in danger in a war that was started for highly dubious reasons by those same officials who have never associated the words “flack” with “jacket.” As one journalist put it in a BBC article today, that, “not a single senior member of this government, the ministers of the Crown who committed Britain to the Iraqi intervention, [will have] had an equivalent experience.”
As much as I think the whole royal thing needs a serious overhaul (why can’t they be like the Swedish royals, who all more or less have normal-ish lives, then just come out to kick off the occasional winter olympics), I’ve always thought young Harry might be a bit of just what’s needed. Apart from the obvious mistake when he was photographed wearing that Nazi fancy dress costume (with all those equerrys and valets and butlers, you’d have thought that someone might have said, “Oi, Harry, don’t be a silly little prince, go out in drag if you want to cause a fuss.”), Harry looks to be a bit of a laugh, more so than the big brother, who seems to be getting more like his dad every day.
But in all seriousness, I will say this, that so see someone in such a position going off to war and not shying away from the hell of it, reminds me of something that old gin-and-tonic lover, the Queen Mother, said in “we the people” inclusiveness after Buckingham Palace was bombed in the war. “Now I can look the East End in the face.” She referred, of course, to the poor part of London devastated in the Blitz. More importantly, she refused to be taken to safe haven in the United States, choosing instead to remain in London with the King, and because she remained, so did her daughters – that bit in the film where Helen Mirren, as the Queen, reminds an underling that she was a mechanic in the war is the truth, she was. For all that I’m not a big one for the monarchy, such words and actions do much to inspire and bring people together, instead of driving in another wedge - and Lord knows, we’ve enough of those stuck in place around the world to be going on with. And though young Harry’s deployment has nothing to do with Blair’s decision to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, if young men and women with connections in high places in this country were part of the military deployment, as we all know, the question of “surge” wouldn’t be an issue. That tide of youth would be sucked back home before you could say, “And what about the body armor?”
While scavenging around in the news from across the pond this week, it seems that finally the female winners at the famous Wimbedon tennis tournament will be paid the same as the men. Is that a long time coming, or what? Many moons ago, on a very hot day, I had a center court ticket (and right up front, too) to see Steffi Graf in her first Wimbledon final against Martina Navratilova. Unfortunately, I had been quafffing a glass or two of champagne to wash down the traditional strawberries and cream, so it was all I could do to stay awake. By the time the men’s doubles began, I was fast asleep.
And so to writing, in all its naked glory. I’ve been checking in on the blog written by Barbara Abercrombie, a UCLA “distinguished instructor” and pretty terrific writer herself. Barbara teaches non-fiction writing and memoir, and if I can, I register for her workshops as soon as they are listed. I’ve written about it before, that need to exercise the creative muscle, to go back to basics in the quest to move beyond the plateau that rears up all the time in a writer’s life. Anyway, check out Barbara’s blog at http://www.writingtime.net. This week she talks about the importance of taking notes, of recording those events, big and small, that impact our lives. The key is to remember smells, tastes, sounds, those elements that the senses are alive to. You see, it all becomes inventory (I’ve spoken about inventory on this blog before), material that can be drawn out and used in fiction and non-fiction alike. So, reminder to self: Take notes. Remember inventory. A book is like building a house, brick by brick. Or as Anne Lamott says, “Bird By Bird.” Those notes help you construct, and they’ll add weight to the stuff of your wonderful imagination.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
I remember my first day in the DEA academy. I hate to date myself but it was February of 1987. A blizzard had shut down Northern Virgina and Washington. The power had been knocked out at the Quantico facility where the FBI and DEA trained their recruits. I thought I’d start my career with my first snow day. Instead, our physical training instructor walked into the gym where we were all awaiting our first contact with the staff. He just sort of appeared in front of us and barked out, “Running shoes and sweats outside in five minutes.”
There were snow drifts six feet high. All the guys from New York, Detroit and other northern dreamscapes started bitching. The storm had already passed and it was fifty outside. I thought that was relatively warm. For a redneck raised in South Florida this was the coolest thing I had ever seen. The temperature was immaterial. We started our run and after about forty minutes our instructor broadcast that we were going to keep running since there was nothing else we could do. So we continued to run in formation, three across and about thirteen rows back.
The instructor would periodically trot in close to someone then step wide and say something like, “Mister Davis says we’re going too slow.” Then he’d pick up the pace. Then he'd make it sound like someone else asked to run up hill and off we’d go. After a few miles he came up next to me and said, “So, Florida, you cold?” I kept looking straight ahead and said, “No sir.” He said, “You tired?” I replied “No sir.” He leaned in close and said, “You a good runner?” I said, “Relatively good runner sir.” That was my error. The DEA does not deal in relative terms. At least not when you’re a recruit. The instructor said, “What’s that mean?” I panicked. I didn’t know if he as asking what the word meant or how good of a runner I thought I was. I stammered and he said something like, “You’re a good runner but talking trips you up?” I kept my eyes straight ahead and he said, “You think this distance s relatively long?” I simply said “Yes sir.”
That’s the day I learned that everything is relative. It turns out that a fifty minute run is not that long, relatively speaking. The instructor yelled out to the class something like, “Mr. Born thinks this is too easy.” That’s not what I meant. He just wanted to see how I reacted under a little stress and what my classmates might do if I had, in fact, been stupid enough to insist we continue to run.
My experiences in the DEA academy, which, I personally consider one of the toughest civilian academies around, (But I recognize others would disagree), taught me most things are relatively easy. The publishing business, while perhaps not fair or friendly, is relatively easy on people. The army is hard. Working in the drug trade is difficult. Being a compulsive gambler and borrowing from guys who do business out of their Cadillacs is difficult. Emergency room medicine is hard. Working is the garbage business is hard. Working in publishing is relatively easy. No one was ever inadvertently yanked into a trash compactor while working at Random House. To my knowledge, no writer was ever shot by a Taliban sniper while figuring out a plot.
Yet if you don’t do your best in publishing, whether writing, editing or distributing, you end up out of the business. Relatively quickly. I don’t read relatively good books. If I can’t say, “Wow, this is a good book," quickly I move on to the next in my mountainous stack. And I consider myself relatively well read.
All things in the world are relative. Pike’s Peak is relatively small compared to Mount Everest. Florida is relatively cool compared to Arizona. My wife is pleasant compared to Dick Cheney. Pauley Shore is a good actor compared to Lindsay Lohan. Paul Levine is a good writer.
Not nothing add there. He’s a good writer (which is important because the photo above proves he has trouble dressing himself). But you get my drift. If you’re reading this blog on a computer, inside, have eaten in last twelve hours and have not undergone a medical procedure you’ve probably got it relatively good.
The photo to the right is a result of relatively bad Florida weather.
So if you hear me whine about the relatively cold weather here, or my relatively wide ass or my relatively good job, smack me. I deserve it.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
In a few weeks, my daughters will turn thirteen. As I tend to do this time of year, I've been thinking a lot about an essay I wrote in December of 1999 about the book I hate most in the world.
Here's the essay:
This is a review of a book I have not read. As far as I'm concerned, Mein Kampf is the only volume which trumps it, in terms of pure malice, cruelty, and distortion.
The book in question, titled The Empty Fortress, was written by Bruno Bettelheim. I bought a copy of it in hard cover two years ago, and it sits on the bookshelf in the living room, in a stretch of books on the same subject. All the rest of these are well-thumbed, some I know nearly by heart. The Empty Fortress, however, has remained untouched by me.
I plan to read it, but I cannot utter the more familiar phrase that "I would like to." I detest this book and its author so intensely, in fact, that I could only bring myself to buy the book used. I had to be certain that no money of mine would benefit even Bettelheim’s estate, now that he is, thank God, deceased.
I like to think of myself as a kind person, one capable of forgiveness and mercy and compassion. For this man, however, I have nothing but unadulterated contempt and hatred. I am, in fact, sorry that he survived the Nazi concentration camps. This is a shocking thing to admit, even to myself, but in his subtle, remorseless way, Bettelheim took all that was most foul and reprehensible about Nazi cruelty and twisted it for his own use against children, families, and, most especially, women in America for decades.
Before I had children of my own, I knew of Bettelheim in a vague way--his name was familiar to me as someone who merited inclusion in the liberal arts canon. He is today perhaps best known as the author of The Uses of Enchantment, in which he attempts something of a Freudian deconstruction of well-known children’s stories such as Little Red Riding Hood.
As a parent, however, I feel that this man is no less deserving of my disgust than is the author of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This is because Bettelheim made it his life’s work to publicly accuse me and thousands of women like me of destroying our children with emotional cruelty so intense that we make Medea look like Donna Reed. In his works, Bettelheim has proclaimed that I have all the maternal qualities of a Nazi concentration camp guard, an infanticidal Shakespearean king, and a child-cannibal witch.
I beg to differ.
Five years ago, I gave birth to healthy twin girls, Grace and Lila. I remember being constantly amazed in that first year, as they grew and tested out the world, at how many thousands upon thousands of little things must go right in order for human beings to become fully realized. Fingernails grow to perfect curves, the heart is formed to beat just so, limbs unfurl and become stronger by the day, and little by little, the brain comes online, discovering itself and all around it.
It was so fascinating to see how different each of the girls was from the other. Grace had thick black hair from birth, while Lila’s blonde fuzz soon fell out. Grace’s quiet, placid demeanor was most always upstaged by Lila’s demanding hunger for attention and everything new. They raced one another to master each baby milestone, so carefully checked off each month against the list from the appropriate chapter in What to Expect the First Year.
We were proud of their compliance with all the books and charts and pediatricians’ comments. "Such big, healthy babies," carried almost exactly to term, a birth with no complications. Each girl was in a high percentile for height, for weight, for head circumference, at every checkup. Each was visible proof of our great love for them both, of our tremendous luck and the smiling favor of the universe. When I spoke with friends who were single, or having trouble with fertility, I was embarrassed by my good fortune. Two babies, after all, bursting with health… how was it that I deserved this glorious bounty? Strangers on the streets of New York would gaze adoringly into their carriage and say "God bless you" to me in hushed and reverent voices.
Looking back at their baby books, so painstakingly filled out when they were little enough that I had time for it, I see again that Lila mastered most of the developmental hurdles before Grace did: smiled, reached, rolled over, sat up, crept, crawled, stood…
The pediatrician was worried about Grace, made a few comments that she needed my attention as much as Lila, though she was quieter--Lila more agile and demanding. She said so most pointedly when she entered the examining room during one appointment to find that I had Lila standing up on the examining table, grasping my hands, while Grace lay beside her. I had been so proud that Lila had conquered gravity at such an early age, months before the books predicted, that I had wanted to show off for the doctor.
The doctor berated me for ignoring Grace, warned of dire consequences. I blushed and was on the verge of tears, thoroughly ashamed of myself.
So when Grace, at around her first birthday, started to take off, we were relieved. Twins, we supposed, took turns at being the leader, and as we relaxed, we realized we had been more worried about little Gracie than we had admitted to ourselves. She began to use words, to attract our attention to things she was doing and trying. Soon she was walking, with Lila right behind her, and the two of them played together and made one another laugh.
I remember this part, because I have video of it. There’s one scene that was so funny: the pair of them sitting in a cardboard box, the container for a case of Pampers. The two kids, aged about 15 months, are wedged in this thing knee to knee--laughing at one another and rocking the box around, then each looking up and laughing at us, inviting our attention.
I don’t like to watch this anymore, though I’ve shown it to some people since. It’s too much for me, really, because it never happened again—that the kids were equals, pals, enjoying each other. If you watch the rest of the tape, the little bits and vignettes captured from that year, you see things change, slowly, inexorably, like the way each wave breaks a touch further down the beach as the tide goes out or the sky darkens by imperceptible degrees in the evening. Perhaps it’s most like watching those old science class films of a flower blooming in fast motion, only it’s running backwards: it is Lila who is slipping out of the picture, out of her self, out of the world. She was snatched away from us as surely as the changeling babies of folklore, who are kidnapped by fairies while their parents sleep, replaced with idiot fairy babies identical in appearance.
And it happened so gradually that we didn’t notice, or maybe refused to, until a friend we hadn’t seen in months called following our visit with her and her family.
I don’t know how to tell you this, she said to my husband, but we were watching PBS last night, and there was a show on and it was about kids who were just like Lila, and it was about autism.
We were in the midst of moving East, after a stint in Colorado, and he and I talked about it long distance, as I looked for a place to live with the kids in Boston, and he wrapped up the last details of his old job. She’s crazy, we said. She’s always been a hypochondriac, remember when she said that other thing? Of course she was overreacting, she was Lila’s godmother and that’s just how she was. The only trouble, of course, was that she was right.
And thank God this woman, my dear friend, had the courage to make a nuisance of herself, because no pediatrician or nurse practitioner or anybody else ever noticed, through all the regular well baby visits and vaccinations and time spent measuring and prodding and checking during that year that my kid was being sucked out of her body. I can now spot the signs of autism in a kid after spending about a minute and half with him or her. But the first professional I spoke to about it said, as Lila lay huddled on the examining table, rubbing a piece of lint and staring off into space, "If your kid’s not sitting in a corner spinning plates, you have nothing to worry about." I know she’d never be so cavalier with a parent who suspected leukemia. I remain shocked that she felt we deserved less.
I am so very grateful, though, that the majority of professionals no longer think this is a psychological disorder caused by cold, overly intellectual parents. Well, let’s not pretty it up… by mothers. The official phrase was "Refrigerator Mother," first suggested by Leo Kanner in the early Forties, and staunchly propagated as the cause of autism for decades by none other than Bruno Bettelheim.
Bettelheim, a Viennese lumber salesman who'd studied art history at university, passed himself off as a psychologist with multiple graduate degrees when he arrived in Chicago after the Second World War.
He made his name by claiming that he knew exactly what caused autism, since he was, he claimed, an expert on the subject-- this because he had seen his fellow prisoners in Nazi concentration camps "become autistic": out of touch with the world, withdrawn, careless for their own nourishment and safety.
He knew that the only thing which could cause this appalling transformation in a child was a mother who created conditions so fearsome, so hideous, that they replicated the conditions of Auschwitz or Bergen Belsen or Theresienstadt. He called his well-received book on the subject The Empty Fortress, to drive home the "fact" that an afflicted child had to so devote every resource to defending itself against the mother, that there was nothing left within the castle walls.
"I would stress," wrote Bettelheim, "that the figure of the destructive mother (the devouring witch) is the creation of the child’s imagination, though an imagining that has its source in reality, namely the destructive intents of the mothering person…. Throughout this book I state my belief that the precipitating factor in infantile autism is the parent’s wish that his child should not exist."
Having anointed himself Torquemada in this latter-day Inquisition, Bettelheim was feted by the cream of his colleagues and given the directorship of The Orthogenic School for disturbed children under the auspices of the prestigious University of Chicago. And because he wrote plainly and convincingly, he popularized his misogynist ravings to such an extent that he was invited to write a child care column for The Ladies Home Journal, which he did from 1968-1973.
The impact of Bettelheim’s life and work on the families of autistic children, especially their mothers, was prolonged and cruel. As Catherine Maurice, mother of two children with autism, writes in her seminal work, Let Me Hear Your Voice:
Months after reading the work I spoke to a vibrant woman whose daughter, now in her twenties and living in a group home, had been diagnosed in the heyday of Bettelheim’s influence and prestige.
Everyone, she told me, believed him. The parents believed what the professionals told them, and the professionals believed Bettelheim. No one questioned his authority.
The psychiatrist had ordered her to bring her child in for ‘analysis’ five days a week. The mother was not allowed to sit in the waiting room, so incensed with her was the doctor’s staff. The nurses and receptionists informed her that she could drop the child at the door and wait for her outside.
They never looked at the mother and refused to say hello or good-bye. She had caused this terrible condition in her child, and she merited no human courtesy. She told me that many a day she had stood there--whether in sunshine, in rain, or in sleet--weeping.
"How did you survive?" I asked her.
"I survived," she said softly. "Some others I know didn’t."
Another couple, the Pollaks, who had a son attending Bettelheim’s school, were devastated by the accidental death of their son when he was home visiting them. The boy fell through a trapdoor in a barn hayloft, where he had been playing with his brother and other children, and plummeted to his death on a concrete floor some thirty feet below.
In a meeting with Bettelheim shortly after this tragedy, they were assured by him that the death was in fact their fault. Bettelheim had warned them, he recounted, that the boy must not leave the premises of the school, despite their insistence that they share some vacation time with him as a family. Their son had so despised them, the "good doctor" explained to the grieving parents, that at the age of eight, he had committed suicide rather than further suffer their company.
Recently, the Pollaks' second child, Richard, wrote an outstanding biography of Bettelheim--more balanced and objective than I could ever manage.
Bettelheim himself has been discredited in the years following his death, both for his physical and sexual abuse of the children placed under his care, and because his supposed academic credentials have been exposed as wholly fraudulent. But the impact of his ideas lives on like a nasty virus.
Most damaging, from my perspective, are the time and resources wasted as a result of his influence: the grant monies (from such sources as the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations) and energies of earnest graduate students hoovered up over the years by Bettelheim and his fellow charlatans. And by convincing the world that autism was a psychological disorder, a patent falsehood, Bettelheim ensured that serious research into its true causes, still unknown, would be cut off at the knees for decades.
It was not until the early seventies, in fact, that Bettelheim’s stranglehold on the field of autism research was broken, by a man named Bernard Rimland. Rimland’s fourth child, a boy, developed autism. Rimland also happened to be a respected psychiatrist. How was it, he wondered, that he and his wife had managed to raise three perfectly healthy "typically developing" children, if they were such monsters as to afflict their youngest boy with autism? When contacted by Rimland with these and other questions, Bettelheim did not deign to answer.
Rimland has since done yeoman work in the trenches of the war on autism, founding both the Autism Society of America and the Autism Research Institute. His youngest son, Mark, now in his thirties, is still ravaged by the disease. It was Mark Rimland, in fact, with whom Dustin Hoffman spent time in preparation for his portrayal of an autistic savant in the film Rainman.
Other celebrities have become very involved in fundraising and publicity for autism research. Of course, as is usually the case, their commitment is motivated by personal experience: Beverly Sills has an autistic child, as do Sylvester Stallone, Dan Marino, and Doug Flutie.
Here is a list of other people who have written about life with autistic family members (click on "list" to see a link to some of this writing):
- Richard Burton (deceased actor) about his daughter by his first wife.
- William Christopher (Father Mulcahy on the TV show M*A*S*H) about his son, Ned.
- Will Clark (Baseball player) about his son.
- Paul Collins (writer) about his son.
- Myron Cope (Pittsburgh sportscaster) about his son.
- Tom Henke (Toronto baseball pitcher) about his son.
- Carl Erskine (former baseball player).
- Audrey Flack (scuptor, photographer), mother of an adult with autism.
- Stephen J. Gould (scientist/writer) about his son, Jesse.
- Merton Hanks (football player) about his daughter, Milan.
- Scott Mellanby (hockey player) about his son.
- Joe Mantegna (actor), father of daughter with autism.
- Dan Marino (football player) about his son.
- Wynton and Brandford Marsalis (jazz/classical musicians) about their brother.
- Mark McEwen (TV weatherman on CBS Morning News), about his brother, Sean.
- Barbara Roberts (former Governor of Oregon), mother of adult with autism.
- Tracy Rowlett (Dallas anchorperson) about his son.
- Jonathan Shestak (movie producer) about his son, Dov.
- Phoebe Snow (singer), mother of daughter with autism.
- BJ Surhoff (Baltimore baseball player, 1996) about his son, Mason.
- David Tomlinson (the actor who starred in Mary Poppins, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, the Love Bug etc) had an autistic son, whose diagnosis and education is mentioned in some detail in Mr Tomlinson's autobiography Luckier than Most.
As a family, we find ourselves in brilliant, if involuntary, company.
We will continue, as these parents have and will, to devour every bit of information we can on the topic of autism, hoping against hope that each new lead, no matter how fragile, will turn out to hold an answer for our daughter that will return her to us. We will all scour the internet and professional publications, and crowd the auditoriums when researchers and clinicians speak at conventions around the country.
I know, too, that I will read every book on autism I can get my hands on. But not The Empty Fortress. Not yet.
And I know that I am a lesser person for it, but I hope that Bruno Bettelheim is rotting in hell.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Before I criticize one of my favorite institutions -- public libraries -- a disclaimer...
All the naked bloggers LOVE libraries. We donate time to library functions. We devote energy to library fund-raisers. And, of course, we use their facilities. (Note to Jim Born: By "facilities," I don't mean their restrooms. I mean their stacks of books, their research capabilities).
In Los Angeles, we are blessed with a splendid library system with a Central Library downtown and 78 branches. As with most major libraries, you can go onto the main Library Website, peruse the catalog, order books delivered to the closest branch, and pick them up in two or three days. The Studio City branch is a five minute drive from my house, and I frequently order non-fiction books needed for research, sometimes a dozen books at a time.
I've begun to notice something while standing in the check-out line. I'm pleased to report that lots of teenagers are using the library. But then...I notice something else. About half the patrons aren't checking out books at all. They're clutching DVD's of "Spiderman 3," "Laura Croft Tomb Raider" and "Laverne & Shirley, The Complete Second Season."
My first reaction is my usual calm approach to questions of public policy: WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING WASTING PRECIOUS TAX DOLLARS ON HOLLYWOOD CRAP AND PAP? OR EVEN ON CLASSIC MOVIES? IS THIS THE FUNCTION OF A PUBLIC LIBRARY?
I'm asking this question even though several "JAG" episodes I wrote are available in the stacks, and I earn a few pennies from library sales. But what's the public purpose here? Shouldn't couch potatoes buy their DVD's at Costco or rent them at Netflix or Blockbuster?
We're in an era of declining reading. Shouldn't libraries foster the consumption of books, not movies and TV shows? Shouldn't we encourage California kids to reach for John Steinbeck, and Jack London, not for taxpayer-purchased purchased vids of Oceans 11, 12, 13, or 99?
But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm hopelessly out of date. Tell me what you think.
WELCOME, FLORIDA WRITERS
Some Florida writer pals are on the road this week. Bob Morris, who should know better, hit New York and Chicago over the weekend before heading for warmer climes. Tonight, he's at "M is for Mystery" in San Mateo; Wednesday at "Chaucer's" in Santa Barbara; Thursday afternoon at "Mysteries to Die For" in Thousand Oaks and at our very own "Mystery Bookstore" in Westwood Thursday evening. Bob is known for his wacky Caribbean novels, the latest of which is the somberly titled, "Bermuda Schwartz." I'll be there Thursday night, mainly because Bob mixes honest-to-goodness Dark and Stormies (Goslings Black Seal rum, ginger beer and lime) at his signings, in clear violation of liquor laws in all 50 states, but not the Bahamas or Virgin Islands.
And, of course, our very own Jim Born is traversing the state of Florida like a slick-talker pitching underwater lots in the Everglades. He's at "Borders" on Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale tonight, "Hooked on Books" in Islamorada tomorrow night, and "Murder on the Beach" in Delray Beach Thursday night. Friday, he'll be at the South Carolina Book Festival in Columbia. Lucky Angelenos will see Jim at the "Mystery Bookstore" in Westwood on Tuesday March 6 with his new thriller, "Friendly Fire." Or, "Field and Stream." Or whatever the heck it's called. Jim does not mix rum drinks for his readers but has been known to threaten some with bodily harm.
With Jim and Bob touring and Patty just back from travel hell (yesterday's blog), you might want to check out Dave Barry's classic, "Highlights from the Billion-City Book Tour," just reprinted by The Miami Herald.
One highlight of the "Highlights."
At a bookstore in Seattle, I meet a urologist who tells me and a group of fascinated yet horrified onlookers about items that he personally has removed from the male anatomy unit.
"One was a swizzle stick from a Ramada Inn," he says, causing a violent outbreak of male wincing.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in 1970, more than 70% of Americans age 18-34 read a daily newspaper. Today, the figure is about one half that amount. Supposedly, it's not such bad news, because young people are getting their news from the Internet.
Yeah, right. Here are the eight most-searched terms yesterday on Yahoo.
Anna Nicole Smith
I am looking for the silver lining in all this. Ah, here it is. Paris Hilton was only number 14 in most-searched terms.
GOOD NEWS FOR BABY BOOMERS
The Wall Street Journal also reported some surprisingly good news for baby boomers. Tests have shown that the aging brain performs some tasks better than younger brains. Unfortunately, I read the article a few days ago, and I can't remember exactly what those tasks were...
Naomi Hirahara is taunting me.
We are both published by Bantam Dell.
We are both competing for the same little statue of a long-deceased alcoholic and manic depressive named Edgar Allan Poe. Yes, "Snakeskin Shamisen" and "The Deep Blue Alibi" are both nominated for Edgars as best paperback original mystery of 2006.
And Naomi has twice e-mailed, offering to mud-wrestle to determine which of us should rightfully represent our publisher. She even posted her dare here, on the holy site of Naked Authors.
Being the gentleman I am, I have not answered these untowardly taunts. Rest assured, however, Naomi, that as soon as I figure out what a "Shamisen" is, you will receive my manly response.
Monday, February 19, 2007
I’ve been a volunteer for the Los Angeles Police Department for eleven-plus years. My official title is Specialist Reserve Officer. I’m currently assigned to the detective unit at the Los Angeles International Airport. I know things. That’s why I’m not excited about flying, especially when it means I have to check my luggage.
But a writer’s got to do what a writer’s got to do. So last weekend I traveled to Alabama for "Murder in the Magic City" in Birmingham and "Murder on the Menu" in Wetumpka.
My outbound flight was late arriving at LAX. Seems they had to de-ice the wings before they could leave Denver. They finally packed us all in and flew us to Dallas, where I was due to connect to my Birmingham flight. For those of you who know the Dallas airport, it’s spread out. You have to take a train across a freeway to get from one terminal to another. I hotfooted it to the gate, arriving at 2:25, five minutes to spare. But the plane had already left. I later learned that my friend Denise Hamilton (who can always find the best barbecue restaurant in town) tried to persuade the flight crew to wait for me but—alas—to no avail. Thanks, Denise. I owe you one.
So there I was, stuck in the Dallas airport for three hours, taking notes on the proper drape of blue jeans over cowboy boots. On the plus side, I think I finally figured it out. You get ‘em long so they fold in soft pleats down your legs like wattle on a turkey's neck.
I eventually got to Birmingham, but my luggage didn’t come with me. I missed my ride to the hotel and I missed the Friday night author dinner. I eventually found my suitcase and by some stroke of luck, I also found Denise Swanson, heading toward the car rental desk.
I shouted over the baggage carousel—"Hey, Denise, remember me? We met a year ago at Mayhem in the Midlands,"—hoping she wouldn't mistake me for a stalker.
Luckily, the gracious and funny school psychologist turned mystery writer decided that, stalker or not, she'd give me a ride to the hotel if I agreed to read the map.
Saturday I was on a panel called “California Dreamin’—of Murder” with NorCal writer Tim Maleeny and fellow Angelenos Denise Hamilton and Sue Ann Jaffarian.
Here's a shot taken of the panel by Carol Stober.
I already knew Denise and Sue Ann, but it was fun getting to know Tim, whose first book Stealing the Dragon was just released this month. Here we are again. That’s Carol in the middle.
The featured guests on Saturday were Laura Lippman (Did you know she was born in Atlanta and has two Uncle Bubbas?) and Edgar winner (The Chatham School Affair) Thomas H. Cook whose gentle Southern drawl and wry wit make him a candidate to narrate the next Ken Burns documentary on the South.
Margaret Fenton of the Southern Sisters in Crime did a superb job of organizing "Murder in the Magic City" on Saturday and making everybody feel welcome. She also made sure we all got to Wetumpka for "Murder on the Menu" on Sunday where Tammy Lynn of The Book Basket arranged a dazzling author’s feast attended by approximately 150 fans.
It was a superb weekend. I got back safe and sound and my luggage arrived with me. Best of all, I discovered that we NakedAuthors have fans in Alabama!!!
The big mystery conventions have a certain allure, but I'm growing to love these smaller conferences where you have a chance to really connect with people. For those of you who attend these events, if you had to compare the pros and cons of each, which type would come out on top? Are there any other small conferences that you've loved?
Happy Monday. Happy President's Day.
Friday, February 16, 2007
I’ve been trying to go easy on my political commentary of late, mainly because I have to save some blood vessels to burst when I go back to the UK at the end of March, and because my mother thinks THEY will revoke my green card if I keep on like this. Of course, when Our Polly posted his piece earlier this week, I almost gave myself an aneurysm as I rushed to agree with every word he said. So, I am going to comment on a couple of items snipped from the garden of “news” this week that have caught my attention.
First off, Lynne Truss – you remember, she wrote “Eats Shoots and Leaves” about the correct use of grammar and punctuation. I think her book should have had a panda on the cover, eating bamboo shoots and waving a Magnum (and not of champagne) as it leaves a bar. She brought up a very good point in an article on imagination. Using the recent example of James Frey’s memoir/novel/book, where he was lambasted for fictionalizing and embellishing his “real life” experiences, earning the wrath of Oprah (did that guy not see the Jonathan Franzen debacle?), she asked why a fine novelist was taken to task for fictionalizing her fiction. Turns out that Stef Penny (an award-winning British writer) had never been to Canada before writing her novel, The Tenderness of Wolves, set in 19th century Canadian wilderness.
“What happened to the imagination?” said Truss, who asks, “At a time when memoirs are being attacked on grounds of literal truth, perhaps people are getting confused about what fiction is - and are therefore asking the wrong questions.” She goes on to say, “Making it up is the point, really. And I have concrete evidence that people can tell the difference between the authentically invented, and the inauthentically factual.” (An aside from me: That last bit sounds familiar in the realm of politics.)
This interests me, this chain of thought, because I take my research seriously. However, I am a storyteller first, as you’ve no doubt heard me say here before (can you “hear” the words on a page?). I make up stories. I once had someone contact me because she couldn’t find a certain address used in one of my books, and I felt like giving her a one-word answer: “Fiction!” Can you imagine what would have happened if I’d used a real address, the poor occupant about to sit down to dinner and there’s a woman at the door wondering whether Maisie Dobbs worked there once?
But there’s no getting away from it, readers are interested in the background research, and to have gone through that process adds weight to the integrity of the story. Should it be that way? As writers of fiction, surely it’s our creativity that counts. In the meantime, I shall just continue in my own sweet way, doing the research – it fascinates me anyway – and Our Polly will continue with the tax-write-off ski vacations, and Patty will drive Porsches at breakneck speed with a gang of wild guys. Mind you, I remember someone once asking Lee Child, at the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference, about his research, to which he replied, “I just make it all up.” And a great job he does too!
Onward to the UN (seeing as we’re talking about fiction, and having an imagination). This week a UNICEF report on the best place for children to be raised was released to the press on both sides of the Atlantic, and no doubt to smug Sweden and the Netherlands, who came out on top of the list – and rightly so. In Britain there was a general sense that its place close to the bottom alongside the USA, was down to the fact that the UK was emulating life on the other side of the pond, so had begun the descent down the slippery slope. The articles and interpretations regarding this report make interesting reading, however, The Independent newspaper in the UK (one of my favorites) went straight to the children, asking youngsters what they thought of the report. Here’s a comment that came, not from some high-falutin’ clever clogs from the UN, but from a kid in one of Britain’s toughest areas: "The richer we become as a society, the less mature young people need to be. Too many people expect the good things but don't want to take responsibility." Hmmm, reckon the same could be said for a lot of adults.
And seeing as you probably saw the title of this blog, “Imagine” and thought it would be about something else, together with the fact that I was listening to GWB pushing his case for "escalation," on the radio today, and had to turn it off because I couldn’t stand it any more, I think we need a Zen moment or two, so here’s John:
Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today...
Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one
Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...
You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one
Thursday, February 15, 2007
DOR. Date of release. To writers it’s a big deal. To me, it’s the start of a busy month. More specifically it is TODAY! That’s right today is the day that Putnam chose to release my newest novel, Field of Fire.
The cover is a lot different than my previous series to point out that this is a police thriller. Many people have said the cover looks like a Joseph Wambaugh cover and I don't mind the comparison. Here's the paperback cover of Escape Clause which will be out in early March. See what I mean.
Not only is it important to me because it’s one of my books, but it’s the first book I’ve had published that’s not part of a series. My first three novels all concerned Florida Department of law Enforcement agent Bill Tasker. They tended to be funny and fast. A lot like police work. I enjoyed writing them. I got reasonably good attention with them. My editor liked each one better than the one before. Then I got stuck. Not so much on a story for Bill Tasker but on a new character. An agent with the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives. The ATF. I work with ATF agents all the time and they are widely considered the workhorses of the federal government. They help local cops. They focus on violent crime and they rarely complain. That makes them a cop’s friend.
I got stuck on the idea for a novel. No, not Field of Fire. I had another idea that I liked. A lot. My editor liked it too. Except the ending. It is one of the few things I’ve disagreed with him about. “The ending is the whole story,” I argued. “No, the story is good, the ending would confuse it with others books,” he would counter. In the end, I deferred to his judgment. After all he has had some success over the years with a few authors like Tom Clancy, W.E.B/ Griffin, Clive Cussler and John Sandford.
But the new character, Alex Duarte, a former combat engineer and son of an immigrant from Paraguay, intrigued me. I started with a few different ideas. What made this guy tick? Why was he so intense? I know guys that become intense from experiences in the military. I know others who become intense through a desire to excel. Some people are brought up that way. Some are just born intense. It took some time before I felt I knew this new character, Alex Duarte, and once I did, he acted in a rational manner. Not perfect. Not how many people would act. But his actions made sense. Then I wanted his personality and life experience to be different and created an ambitious ATF agent with little experience with women. He lives in an apartment behind his parents but recognizes the error in doing so.
Most importantly he has a sense of justice and fair play even if they are not written in policy or laid out in the law. Some people are averse to this kind of attitude. Most are not. I invite people to try Alex Duarte and come to your own conclusion. He surprised me. And that’s why I wrote the book.
I will be touring quite a bit on this book and hope some of you have the time or inclination to come out. Paul said to mention specificially that I will be at the L.A. Mystery Bookstore on March 6 at 7:00pm.
Here is most of the schedule:
February 15 Miami, FL Books & Books, 6:30 PM
February 16 Largo, FL The Book Bank, 1:00 PM
February 16 St. Petersburg, FL Haslam’s Book Store, 4:00 PM
February 17 Sarasota, FL Circle Books, 11:00 AM
February 17 Cape Coral, FL One For The Books, 3:00 PM
February 20 Ft. Lauderdale, FL Borders, 7:00 PM
February 21 Islamorada, FL Hooked On Books, 4:00 PM
February 22 Del Ray Beach, FL Murder on the Beach, 7:00 PM
February 27 Deland, FL The Muse Books, 7:00 PM
February 28 Vero Beach, FL Vero Beach Book Center, 7:00 PM
March 6 Los Angeles, CA Mystery Bookstore, 7:00 PM
March 7 Scottsdale, AZ Poisoned Pen, 7:00 PM
March 8 Houston, TX Murder by the Book, 6:30 PM
March 14 Plantation, FL Barnes & Noble, 7:00 PM
March 15 Wellington, FL Barnes & Noble, 7:00 PM
If you get the chance to come out, I’d love to see you.
A Blogmate’s Pride
I am very proud to be on the blog with not one but two Edgar nominees. I know it’s been mentioned but I wanted to express my own good wishes to them both.
I’ve known Paul Levine for some time and enjoyed his books since before we met. I even have a signed copy of To Speak For the Dead. If that doesn’t show my interest then nothing does. Aside from being the butt of Paul’s jokes, I have also provided him with the impetus to start the Solomon vs Lord series. I think I said something like, “Are you still writing that Jake Lassiter shit?” So I guess, I should be mentioned in that Edgar nomination. But I’ll be big and step aside.
Cornelia’s Field of Darkness is not only one of the best titles around but I liked the complex heroine, Madeline Dare. It’s not a good first novel (the category she is nominated it), it’s a good novel. I’m not sure I even like that category because so many writers have several unpublished novels before their first published one. Regardless, Cornelia has a well-earned nomination. I’d like to take some credit for her success too but unfortunately I don’t see the chance. Yet. Give me a couple of days.
It is an honor to be nominated for any awards and I, for one, don’t mind being associated with either of these fine writers.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
It's that day again, and for those of you who've spaced until the last minute, I offer a selection of the finest Valentine's cards available for free online (hint: right-click, save to desktop, and email to your beloved ASAP).
First, a card to each of my blogmates...
For Patty the sailor:
For Mr. Born, our newbie dude:
For Our Jacqueline, and Maisie D. too:
For Paul/Polly, and Renee:
For the Floridian Mr. Grippando--come back and hang out often, or we'll sic the Pink Nun of South Beach on you:
And now for the rest of you, an assortment of affectionate greetings, organized by recipient....
For the girl with the little red riding hood:
For Bush the Younger (with love from Karl R.):
For the polyamorous:
For the friend with a broken heart:
For the distant love:
For those who are unlucky at cards:
For the moonstruck:
For the clotheshorse:
For the utterly angelic:
For the friend whose beau is an ASS:
For the Incompleat Angler:
For the girl in need of guidance:
For the cute but snarkily perverse:
For those early-to-bed, early-to-rise types:
For the suave and debonair:
For the handyperson:
For the definite:
For the cuckold?
For the cornily risque:
For those loooooog involved:
For the sports fan:
For those with a love of the great outdoors:
For the detail-conscious:
For the musician:
For the cold-hearted:
For the traditionalist:
For the bestest pal ever (my personal favorite, from Bust Magazine):
In honor of the day, what is your favorite love poem?
"One Perfect Rose"
A single flow'r he sent me, since we met.
All tenderly his messenger he chose;
Deep-hearted, pure, with scented dew still wet -
One perfect rose.
I knew the language of the floweret;
'My fragile leaves,' it said, 'his heart enclose.'
Love long has taken for his amulet
One perfect rose.
Why is it no one ever sent me yet
One perfect limousine, do you suppose?
Ah no, it's always just my luck to get
One perfect rose.
No, I'm kidding... here's the real one (by a favorite old teacher of mine):
"I Love You Sweatheart"
A man risked his life to write the words.
A man hung upside down (an idiot friend
holding his legs?) with spray paint
to write the words on a girder fifty feet above
a highway. And his beloved,
the next morning driving to work...?
His words are not (meant to be) so unique.
Does she recognize his handwriting?
Did he hint to her at her doorstep the night before
of "something special, darling, tomorrow"?
And did he call her at work
expecting her to faint with delight
at his celebration of her, his passion, his risk?
She will know I love her now,
the world will know my love for her!
A man risked his life to write the world.
Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love
is like this, Sweatheart, all sore and dumb
and dangerous, ignited, blessed--always,
regardless, no exceptions,
always in blazing matters like these: blessed.