GUEST POST: Sneaky Prose Killers by Aaron D. Gansky

Aaron and I co-wrote Write To Be Heard after meeting in the low-residency MFA at Antioch University, Los Angeles. Since he has taken down his website for now, I wanted to make sure this useful piece is readily available:

Some time ago, I sent in an early draft of the first book of my Hand of Adonai series in to my agent. I’d expected a rave review; instead, I got a disappointed e-mail. “It’s too telling,” she said. “Your characters are too passive.” She sent me a list of these words and suggested I comb through the draft looking for these sneaky prose killers. Of course, the manuscript was riddled with them. Since then, I go through each of my drafts and look for these. It’s perhaps the longest stage in revision for my writing process, but it’s also the process that best benefits my prose. Here’s a list of the words and when and why they’re bad.

Watch/notice/observe/look: These weak verbs usually mean inactive characters. What’s more boring than watching paint dry? Reading about someone watching paint dry. “Notice” is often used to call reader’s attention to important information through the eyes of the character. But if we’re already in the eyes of that character, it simply becomes a superfluity.

Just: A sneaky adverb. Okay in dialog (rarely and sparingly), but virtually never in prose. Seldom is the word necessary, and it can be eliminated in most cases.

Then: While sometimes necessary, most prose will benefit if it’s eliminated. Especially bad when paired with other no-no words (i.e. “He walked toward her just then” contrasted with “He walked toward her”).

That: Another tricky one that is allowable in dialog sparingly. (i.e. “It’s not that bad.”) Most commonly, the word is used to introduce a dependent clause. Common grammarians will tell you to eliminate it in these cases (i.e. “He wanted her to know that he loved her” becomes “He wanted her to know he loved her”).

Feel/feeling/felt: These verbs are weak for the same reasons that watch, notice, and observe are. It indicates passivity and oftentimes creates a voice that’s more telling than showing. While a certain amount of telling is necessary to move the story forward, too much of it will get your novel thrown in the recycling bin. Instead, consider an action that shows the feeling. “She felt sad” becomes “She folded her arms and turned her head from him.”

There: While necessary in some cases, this becomes prosaically offensive when followed by “is” or “was” or “were.” This construction indicates a sentence in the passive voice. Editors seldom appreciate the passive voice because it feels very telling. “There was a chair in the room” becomes “Oliver walked around the lone chair in the room.”

Knew/know: Again, indicates a passive character. Sometimes necessary, but could be indicative of a needed change.

Maybe: You’ll see this pop up in dialog, but it should be avoided in nearly every instance of exposition. The word weakens the power of the prose by making it wishy-washy. Most often, writers use this while establishing interior monolog. “Maybe he was mad at her” (passive). “He had no right to be mad at her” (active). Both reveal the inner workings of the character’s mind, but the latter carries a stronger emotive context.

See/saw: See notice/watch/observe. “He saw Lauren smile” becomes “Lauren smiled.” We know the characters saw this, so the introductory clause is superfluous.

Hear/heard: See above. “He heard a shrill whistle of a train deep in the foothills” becomes “A train whistle shrilled deep in the foothills.” The reader understands that the character hears this, so the set up of “he heard” becomes unnecessary.

Could/couldn’t: A word that generally accompanies see, notice, hear, etc. “He could see the tops of her slippers” becomes “Snow and ice crusted the tops of her slippers.” The elimination of this word provides more opportunities to show rather than tell.

“-ly” adverbs: Adverbs, especially those that end in -ly, weaken your writing. They’re a sign that the verb you’re using isn’t strong enough on its own. Rather than having to use an adverb to prop up a verb, find a verb that’s strong enough to stand on its own.

Also, adverbs tend to call attention to themselves and away from the rest of the sentence, away from the rest of the story. You want the attention where it belongs: on your characters and plot. Not on gaudy, tacky words. As a general rule, the fewer adverbs you have, the stronger your writing will be.

Was/were: Generally indicate passive voice, which you know by now is a no-no.

For fun, go through your current project and do a word find on these. Which of these do you abuse the most? If I had a dime for every time I used “just” or “that,” I could quit my day job. 


In addition to being a loving father and husband, Aaron D. Gansky is a novelist and teacher. He is the author of the novel The Bargain, Who Is Harrison Sawyer, Heart Song, Firsts in Fiction: First Lines and the YA Fantasy series The Hand of Adonai.

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My Dad As A White Man

My father was born 118 years ago today. He’s been dead for close to four decades. My research for my trauma memoir, BAGGAGE CLAIM, coupled with the racial (re)awakening after George Floyd’s death, compelled me to take a deeper look at his life as a Jamaican immigrant in the United States.

Ellis Island

I learned that my father attended what were known in Jamaica as “coloured schools” in the early 20th century (and I’m using the Jamaican/British spelling for clarity re. what pertains to the island). He came to the United States to attend Yale and graduated class of 1927. He was one of four passengers — all listed as West Indian rather than British — on the Cananova, a cargo steamer also known as a banana boat, sailing from Port Antonio, Jamaica to Ellis Island. He stayed with an aunt, likely one of his mother’s sisters, at 2441 7th Ave — now known as Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. — in Harlem. He arrived in New York on September 11, 1922. I’ve learned dates repeat in my family history: my mother, his second wife, was born on September 11, 1919. His fare was $50 which would be $750–800 in today’s dollars. Not a small sum for his family.

Port Antonio, Jamaica

My grandfather was a Methodist minister who attended the coloured seminary. He and my grandmother — a coloured woman — had seven children and my father was born in Manchioneal, Portland Parish. My grandparents were descendants of enslaved West Africans and their masters. My grandmother also from Sephardic Jews escaping the Inquisition. My father was the second oldest and second son, nicknamed Minor to his older brother’s Major. The ship’s manifest noted a scar on the third finger of his left hand — his ring finger. He told us he got it carving a Thanksgiving turkey. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Jamaica and it happened before he was 19 years old, not after he married for the first time at 30. It’s the first outright lie I know of from him, but there were several lies of omission. My mother and I only learned he had a third brother, five years younger than my father, when we met him in Jamaica on our first visit when I was 10 years old. That brother was married to a lovely ebony-skinned Black woman. My grandmother was a wonderful woman, but also a woman of her time who bought into colourism, wanting her sons to marry white or light-skinned women. My father’s scar might have been from a machete cutting coconuts, though why that would need a cover story, I don’t know. Maybe he wanted to marry a Black woman. No one in the family ever showed any violence, but perhaps the woman’s family was opposed. If there was a woman. Maybe there was some kind of scandal. All I know is that sometime after the scar that needed a cover story, they shipped him off to the States. It’s a mystery.

The man at Yale

My father returned to Jamaica after graduating from Yale and stayed five or six months. The Santa Marta, another cargo steamer, brought him back to Ellis Island on January 1, 1928. My father was 25 years old and still listed as a student on the manifest. The five years in New York are also a mystery, other than they started in Black Harlem. It’s easy to imagine someone could have pointed out that he could “pass” for an easier life here. By the time of his first marriage to a white woman, he checked the “White” box on census forms. He did the same on his two marriage certificates. His two marriages also took place in states, Ohio and California, that had repealed their anti-miscegenation laws. That was not a coincidence.

Two of his brothers knew and hosted Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as working for Jamaican independence from Britain and an Afro-centric culture on the island. My dad was a registered Republican who voted for Goldwater. Dr. King said of Goldwater, “I feel that the prospect of Senator Goldwater being president of the United States so threatens the health, morality, and survival of our nation that I can not in good conscience fail to take a stand against what he represents.” My father went on to vote for Nixon both times.

Few in La Jolla, CA where I grew up knew his real history until well after he married my white mother who owned a house at a time when deeds still carried the warning not to sell to Negroes or Jews. They sold that house over her objections and bought a larger one in a new tract, then he joined the country club. Even then, most did not know his background. In 1984, a long-time associate attributed the lilt in his speech to Scotland in the obituary he wrote for their Kiwanis newsletter. After his death, we learned from a realtor that there were some in town who surmised his background. For them, the house, the country club, being a successful Republican CPA who volunteered at church and Kiwanis made no difference. They only saw the poor, skinny Black kid descended from enslaved West Africans who worked the sugar plantations of Jamaica.

There was a passage in a long-forgotten novel that summed up how I used to feel about my father when he died: “He didn’t make much of a hole.” Now I see that, too, was by design. He was a cipher, most relaxed on our two trips to Jamaica or in the company of light heavyweight champion Archie Moore and his friends, all Black. I only saw him that way a handful of times and back then I didn’t understand the difference in him. The rest of the time and for most of his life, his strategy was to not call any attention to himself and blend in. It came at a cost, one much higher than I can imagine. He allegedly wanted to be a writer, but you cannot write without authenticity, without telling the truth. Even if you try to hide it, truth of your emotions and your situation seeps through. My mother used to blame his not writing books and poetry on my unexpected birth. Besides the cruelty of that statement, it’s not true. I have colleagues who get up at 4 a.m. to write before their work and family demands begin. As a single mother, I sometimes wrote in small time spaces such as waiting to pick up the kids from school. There are always ways if you truly want it. Unless you don’t want to call attention to yourself. Unless you’re not being true to who you are. Unless you’re a Black man passing as white in “one drop” America.

part of Cananova manifest

Women and Children First

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Yesterday was a hard day. I was acquainted with one of the sixty women who came forward about Bill Cosby and have some idea how difficult it was for her and how much it cost her physically, mentally, and emotionally. Before the trial but after a news conference with the other women, I saw her in person. She burst into tears when I told her I believed her. I thought about her and the others yesterday. I’m writing this in the middle of the night. I can’t sleep because I’m still thinking about them, whether all of them will survive this. And I am so very angry. The trial brought back a memory of when a man tried to drug me. It didn’t work out for him and I was lucky: lucky his friends left, taking him with them when they did, lucky to make it home in one piece wondering why I felt so weird after the drink he bought me, lucky to not wake up to….

Yesterday after the news, now in the middle of the night, I don’t feel particularly lucky. I’ve endured other assaults. Has #MeToo all been for nothing? Will they find a way to release Weinstein as well? Louis CK is still performing, Kevin Spacey has a new film, someone has taken over for Epstein. Busine$$ as usual.

Years ago, a therapist told me our society doesn’t actually care about women and children. “Women and children first” sailed into our lexicon most famously from the Titanic, but historically, that’s rarely the case. For kids, we’ll do the easy stuff like car seats (“see! we’re protecting them”), but we refuse to take on the really hard damaging stuff like pedophilia. Even now, you can find “religious leaders” spouting conspiracy theories about child sex rings in Hollywood and DC. I’m not going to link to that garbage. I would like to send Child Protective Services to their homes or interview their adult children to check on them because the ones who scream the loudest with that kind of deflection? Well.

We refuse to see the real problem, primarily in families. I’m an incest survivor. It’s very common. So is domestic violence. Women and children first. We can’t even enact common sense gun regulations or do much of anything to stop mass shootings. “School shootings” should not be a common phrase, but here we are. Those shootings only went down in a pandemic lockdown. Instead of ending them, we teach students and teachers how to hide. We make bulletproof backpacks. “Women and children first” in the line of fire. And while the shootings went down, we’re already seeing stories that all kinds of domestic abuse went up during lockdown. Women and children first.

Yesterday was not a good day for justice. Throughout his career, Cosby told us what he was doing. My mother took me to one of his live shows when I was a kid, too young to understand what Spanish Fly was, much less his obsession with it. As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” We didn’t. They were just jokes, until they weren’t. There was nothing in his release that exonerated him — this was about a technicality. And in many ways, my grief and outrage aren’t about this one case. Or only about men — my mother was my primary abuser. Some of Cosby’s most vocal defenders are women. It’s about the system kept in place by wealthy people who want to do whatever they want to do, to go on with business as usual. It’s anger over lip service about saving hypothetical women and children while ignoring the ones actually enduring horrors. It’s the nausea over one party trying to codify discrimination, particularly on the basis of race and gender, and make it nearly impossible to ever change things. It’s about famous women calling men who have confessed innocent. It’s the outrage over how incredibly difficult it is to bring these cases to trial, let alone get a conviction, only to see it vanish over a technicality many seasoned attorneys find flimsy.

I don’t have answers, but I do know how awful incest and sexual assault are to endure. I know how those events change your brain, biochemistry, and strip away any sense of safety. I know how they impact every facet of your life. I don’t want any one else to go through that kind of pain. So I wrote a trauma memoir, including some of the science. It was an agonizing process to write it and it took six years. I broke the cycle for my kids, but that was only the beginning. Now the book is out to agents and nearly every day I hear from another who doesn’t want to deal with the material even while they compliment my writing, insisting it’s an important topic, and some express the hope I find the right person. It’s hard being that right person though. It’s hard and it’s upsetting and it’s uncomfortable just as it’s hard and upsetting and uncomfortable to change laws or confront an abuser, let alone bring one to justice, or any of the other work to protect the vulnerable. It’s incredibly messy to acknowledge that many abusers have been abused and need treatment as well. But it is still damned necessary to break these cycles, this predatory behavior, and if we will not take it on, if we do not fight business as usual, in American parlance, the bad guys win. Maybe they already have.

I Am Not Who I Was Pre-Pandemic

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash

I am not the same person I was when the pandemic began.

I used to be a Catholic. It’s easy to get caught up in your own life and enjoy the music, friendships, serving, and more in a faith community, but when I saw yet another priest caught not only with child porn, but child torture porn, then news of the church reinstating accused priests, I couldn’t ignore it. Not with my background. (William McCandless, the one with the torture porn was indicted in Dec 2020 and in home confinement) I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse (family, not clergy) and wasn’t surprised pedophiles hid in the church, but the tolerance, the coverup, the lack of change, the reversals? They’ve had decades to improve things. Even the church I used to attend, one that spoke up about the pedophilia scandal when many others did not, failed to address George Floyd’s murder. And there’s so much more, so much wrong that is once again swept under the rug. It’s not only Catholics, it’s pervasive, with so many using religion as a cover for abuse just as they do for amassing money.

My politics reawakened after reading Jane Mayer’s excellent Dark Moneyand I returned to my early activist days, first for Charlottesville and again during the pandemic after Floyd’s death, joining the crowds in protest. Because I was taking care of my baby grandson during the week, I was careful, masked, and socially distanced as much as possible given the crowd, but I also want to be able to look him in the eye and tell him I didn’t just sit by when shit got real. It felt good to join colleagues — virtually — to write letters for Vote Forward. Now I join political briefings in a collective I belong to for women of color and their allies.

For the past six years, I’ve worked on a trauma memoir which meant a deep dive into my own shadow and my family history. I’ve learned about my enslaved West African ancestors and Jewish ancestors from Viseau, Portugal fleeing the Inquisition, all ending up in Jamaica. I looked at epigenetics and how trauma travels down generational lines. I learned what happens to the body and brain in the presence of child abuse. And I saw recurring patterns of dates, ages, and behaviors.

Digging down into the worst of my family and into the core of my self-hatred changed me for the better. Shadow work is not pleasant. My editor said he could not imagine the cost of writing my story. I likened it to taking an old razor and stripping off all my skin, maybe pouring salt on some days, having my skin grow back overnight, then doing it all over again the next day and the next. I have met many fellow travelers with similar journeys including a distant cousin on the Jamaican side of my family. Our dads were born a few miles from each other and my grandmother’s side shares her father’s Portuguese Jewish ancestry. Our white mothers were very troubled and abusive women. We talked every day for a year, starting before the pandemic and then three times a week as we both healed, providing a compassionate witness for each other. We learned that tiny acts of self-care make a huge difference. We learned to let go of control and mean it when we say, “not my circus, not my monkeys.” We learned self-compassion and eventually self-love. We learned the importance of a sense of safety. There was no time that I felt safe in the house I grew up in. I now feel safe in my own skin for the first time. I have real joy. That’s new.

I let go of a lot of friendships. I’d kicked the narcissists and bullies out of my life a few years before the pandemic. The pandemic highlighted the remaining one-way streets. I released the closet racists and came to terms with my father’s choices. In researching my book, I learned he went to the “coloured schools” in Jamaica growing up. He hid a lot from us, from everyone, and it cost him more than I will ever know. He was only truly relaxed either in Jamaica or around African Americans and I can count those times on one hand.

New friends have appeared, healthier ones, ones who often get in touch for no reason other than to have a good conversation. New explorations into traditional West African traditions, particularly with how they syncretized in the American South and Caribbean reconnect me with some of my roots. Instead of disappearing, my faith has expanded.

I am not the same person I was before the pandemic. The past is finally and firmly in the past. I am now a better person, a happier one, and even in the face of so many serious societal problems, a hopeful one.

Photo by Ron Smith on Unsplash


Asphyxiating Toxic Cycles

As a childhood trauma survivor, I learned some years ago that we often hold our breath. It’s a way of not feeling when so much of what we feel is bad. It’s a way of disconnecting from our body because our bodies were hurt and abused. For me, it was due to incest, terror, humiliation and more.

Breathing has been recently highlighted in horrific ways including Covid killing nearly 4 million people by turning their lungs into cement, the breath being snuffed out of Black men by police officers, and the continued destruction of our coral reefs, rainforests, and oceans that are the lungs of the plant.

What can we make of these global messages on breathing from so many sources?

Breath denied cuts us off from ourselves, even from life. We have polluted parts of this earth to the point where people have great difficulty breathing there. I saw it in the slums of Kenya where many have eye and lung problems from the huge dumps like Dandora and Kibera. As director Peter Sellars has noted, we see the state of injustice is so bad that breath itself is denied as in the cases of Eric Garner and George Floyd, along with those unfilmed. Child abuse traumatizes us to the point where we deny ourselves breath — just enough to stay alive but not enough to feel or be in our bodies.

This pandemic ‘time out’ we’ve been given isn’t looking like it’s going to make as much of a difference we might have hoped when it began. We seem incapable of breathing together, of realizing we need to work together, of loving together. But love, work together, and breathe we must.

I don’t have the answers, but I do know that when we make the choice to heal ourselves and our family line, to break toxic familial cycles, it matters, it makes a difference. It can mean one less incest survivor, fewer child abuse victims, which leads to fewer problems down the road for all of us.

To break these cycles means facing your own shadow and we humans are generally loathe to do that. As a society, we’re even worse at telling ourselves the truth about the atrocities of the past. This means first we must tell the truth which violates Rule #1 of a dysfunctional family: Do Not Tell.

I never said any of this would be easy. Most of it is hard as hell.

These are some of the things that helped me break the cycle for me and my children:

  • Make the decision to do things differently, not perfectly, just better
  • Tell the truth
  • Do your shadow work
  • Breathing exercises will strengthen your diaphragm and intercostal muscles that have likely been underused. This can be triggering, so proceed with caution.
  • Learn your triggers
  • Get trauma informed therapy and try different approaches for what works for you. EMDR works for some, not others.
  • If you cannot afford therapy, read Pete WalkerPeter Levine, Bessel van der Kolk, Stephen Porges, Pat Ogden and others or watch them on YouTube. There are also interesting episodes on This Jungian Lifepodcast.
  • Return to your body: somatic work, yoga, breath work, grounding, qigong, etc.
  • Try medication and be aware you may be hypersensitive to it, so discuss this with your trauma-informed psych. There is no shame in medication.
  • Eat clean and exercise
  • Sound baths
  • Practice mindfulness
  • Explore support groups online or as things open up, in person, including 12-step, DBSA, Survivors of Incest Anonymous, RAINN, and more
  • Journal
  • Do something to improve society, whether it’s getting out the vote, cleaning up a beach or park, food drives or something else. It feels good to help others, get out of yourself for a bit, and it can keep you from ruminating
  • Realize the shame belongs to the perpetrator

I also have spent much of the past six or seven years writing my trauma memoir — after a couple of years of trauma therapy and more years off and on in regular therapy — which allowed me to see recurring patterns, including dates, ages, anniversaries of events. I was also finally able to see my parents more fully as damaged people — in my mother’s case severely damaged — at a time when there was no trauma-informed therapy or medications. They were mostly reactive rather than relational. Writing BAGGAGE CLAIM was the hardest thing I have ever done and I pray that it helps others.

Instead of holding our breath, instead of suffocating each other metaphorically or in reality, let’s instead cut off the oxygen to bad behaviors of all kinds. If we reduce child sexual abuse by only 5%, that is over 2 million people. 2 million who will have a better quality of life with better mental and physical health. There are similar statistics for the environment and social justice. We all benefit, but we will have to give up some comfort and considering the current political discourse, we will have to give up a lot of fear.

Traumas Public and Private: What if the Inner Child Grew Up?

Is it time to give up all hope that this pandemic and its mandatory pause might help us build a better society? Seems like it. We’re literally coming out of this pandemic guns blazing in the United States. 45 mass shootings in 30 days. Then today, Kenosha and Austin, with Austin mere hours after Ted Cruz ranted on Fox that “Biden wants to take your guns.” Meanwhile he rakes in hundreds of thousands in gun lobby money. Station KHOU-11 reported, “…during the 2018 election cycle Ted Cruz was the biggest recipient of money from gun rights backers with $311,151. For comparison the next highest recipient was Martha McSally in Arizona who got just over $228,000.” reports he was the third highest all-time recipient with $749, 317. Mitt Romney was first with over $1M. The top 20 recipients of gun lobby money are all Republicans. When a politician is interviewed about an issue, we could at the very least put the total dollar amount they received from pertinent lobbies on the damned TV screen.

This week also meant another Black man, only 20 years old, killed by a police officer about ten miles from the Chauvin trial in Minnesota. A 13 year old boy with his hands up shot dead by a Chicago police officer. And the interconnectedness cries out for our attention. As The Sparrow Project pointed out, “George Floyd’s partner was Daunte Wright’s teacher. US Army 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario’s uncle was Eric Garner. Fred Hampton’s mother babysat Emmitt Till.” We keep saying, “Enough is enough,” but clearly that is not the case.

In examining my own outrage, I’ve discovered something that is tied to my own trauma. It’s easy for those of us who grew up with a lot of trauma to get incensed over injustice. We experienced our caretakers not taking care of us, causing pain and chaos instead of protecting and nurturing us. Childhood trauma is massively unjust and unfair. But what I’ve seen in myself — the past few years especially — is my use of the current political climate to quench the primal need to ride the adrenaline storms I experienced as a child in a traumatic, unpredictable household including the crash that comes with not being able to do anything about it. With social media, I keep riding that roller coaster. I cannot always get my adult to stop the ride. Outrage, anger, helplessness… it’s a familiar cycle and profoundly unhelpful without meaningful action. It doesn’t solve anything and it keeps me too distracted to work on the problems or pay attention to what I actually need. Emotionally, it keeps me mired in the past. Many of us are the embodiment of the New Yorker cartoon that noted, “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.” Perpetually so.

This realization arose during the thrice weekly conversations I have with a close friend. We each came from households with quiet, passive fathers and caustic, abusive mothers. Our current working solution (in addition to longer social media breaks) is to concentrate on small acts of self-love and on the inner work with the hope that it makes a difference in the outer world. And she had the insight of coaxing the Inner Child (IC) to grow up. She’s on to something. My IC was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused and is often sad, hurt, withdrawn, angry, and sometimes in collapse. My IC can also be sassy and joyful and fun and spontaneous. But bottom line is my IC should not be running the show. Or staying on that roller coaster all hours.

What if my Inner Child grew up within me to match where I am now? What if I lived a heart-centered life instead of my old coping mechanism where my head tries to figure out everything in an attempt to feel safe? What if my IC grew to feel safe and not have the same repeated reactions wielding the same unconscious subterfuge in my life? What if I didn’t spend all that time flooding my adrenal system with outrage, no matter how justified? I might even discover enough bandwidth to consider how to help with the societal problems.

I don’t have answers. Not yet. I just know that what I’ve been doing individually and what we’re doing collectively isn’t working. We need to consider new possibilities, new viewpoints, new questions while we still can, beginning with an act that is radical for trauma survivors: self-love.

Flash Fiction

The Green Bench

Originally published on September 14, 2010 by The Citron Review, nominated for Pushcart, and adapted into an award-winning short film in 2016

by Diane Sherlock

Listen to him barking in the night. Fear shifts on the bed next to you, hogging the covers. Stare at the ceiling and wonder what to do. Forget his birthday. Forget he is forty-two. Forget the phone call from Berkeley twenty-one years ago. Forget about the happy little boy with the smooth tan skin and the big green eyes. Those eyes that see things that aren’t there, at least not in this dimension. Forget all the tears. Don’t think about the years you tried to talk him into leaving the garage.

In the morning, exhausted, make his favorite breakfast: honey nut oatmeal, mango juice, a poached egg on an onion bagel, and strawberries. Use only paper plates and bowls with plastic utensils and put it all on a sturdy cardboard tray. Buy them in bulk. Don’t appreciate the color arrangement of orange and red punctuating beige and white. Look at the low bench that you have placed outside the door to the garage, the one with a fresh coat of forest green that you made look new again because at least that was possible. That is the mark you will hit. It is twenty steps from the house to the detached garage. Detach.

Open the back door and walk outside. Gently leave the food on top of the bench and move quickly back inside the house on silent feet and lock the door. Don’t knock, don’t make noise, don’t do anything to disturb the performance, to shatter the illusion of normalcy. True, the police would finally do something, but he might end up on the street after a 72-hour hold and you might end up in the hospital.

Consider sprinkling olanzapine on his food, but then consider that he might taste it and then what? Wonder how someone irrational is supposed to make rational decisions about treating his brain chemistry. Don’t bother about fine ethical points. Anything for him to be okay again, for a bit of happiness, for a full night’s sleep. Listen to the crashes and screams from the garage, muted by two layers of closed doors and windows. The neighbors don’t even look any more. Check to make sure your doors are locked, then take a hot shower and get dressed.

It is quiet. Peek out the window and see that the food is gone. Nothing ever comes back out.

Go to a meeting. Go to lots of meetings, at least once a week for fifteen years. This time, when the new faces point out that a judge might see things differently, that you might be seen as endangering him, that you could be seen as abusive, sit with your hands folded and do not speak. Think of yourself, they say, take measures. Know that they don’t yet understand that all you can think about is him. Tell yourself that they will know what it’s like in another twenty years.

Go back home to your bed and pull the sheet of despair up to your chin and stare at the ceiling and wonder how you will summon the energy to take measures. Shift slightly when fear puts its chilled arm around you and holds you against its hard ribcage until it’s time to get up and make the dinner you will leave on the dark green bench outside the door to your garage.

Ignore The Shadow At Your Peril

On January 6, 2021, Georgia moved us closer to democracy than autocracy.

On January 6, 2021, the Confederate flag flew in the United States Capitol. 

On January 6, 2021, there was an attempted coup to subvert the election certification process in advance of Joe Biden taking office on January 20. Eleven Senators, led by Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley, both presumably vying for the next GOP presidential nomination, said they were going to challenge the process. Three of those Senators thought better of it as the day’s violence unfolded. Trump spoke to the Proud Boys and other fanatical followers gathered at his request saying he’d won by a landslide (demonstrably false). After the rally, the mob stormed the Capitol Bldg. One of these followers, a woman from San Diego was killed as she forced her way in through the glass door they’d broken. The cop on the other side shot her in the chest. She died later at the hospital. Nancy Pelosi called the DoD to ask for Nat’l Guard assistance. They said no. Shots had already been fired and reps and their staffs evacuated, fearing for their lives. The Speaker of the House asked for assistance and was turned down. The National Guard was finally deployed later.

Twitter and Facebook shut Trump down, at least temporarily. He’s dangerous because he’s cornered and has nothing to lose. He knows SDNY awaits. The Cabinet is discussing invoking the 25th amendment to keep him from doing more damage in the next 13 days. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s soon on a plane to Moscow, but maybe Putin, too, has had enough.

When he was elected, I said the only way Trump would leave the White House would be in handcuffs or a body bag – not that he’d be killed, but that the shock of reality finally intruding on his formidable defenses would result in a heart attack or stroke. He’s been shielded from consequences and failure by family, money, and enablers for all of his 74 years. Mary Trump shed light on the family dynamics in her book. He wasn’t going to go quietly or voluntarily, at least not without overwhelming pressure to do so. He is who he has always been. There should be no surprise in any of this.

Many of us saw this coming years ago, especially those of us who had an abusive narcissist for a parent.

Our policies over the years and our refusal to deal with our shadow as a nation – the ugly events and racism we’d rather gloss over – have brought us to this point. I’m preparing a talk for Creative Mornings on the importance of coming to terms with childhood trauma and the shadow with regard to creative work. Nationally, there is far more at stake. In a time when we need to wear physical masks to protect each other during a global pandemic, there has been a great unmasking. Racism is out in the open. All of this because we elected a Black man and full disclosure, I voted for Obama.

As others have observed, this was not the darkest day in American history. There have been too many horrendous days for those enslaved, those oppressed, and those slaughtered for their land. We must rewrite our myths and we must come to terms with our shadow. Continuing to ignore it means continuing the cost in human lives, including Emmett Till, George Floyd, and far too many whose names have been obscured. To continue to ignore our shadow will kill democracy itself.

Here is the link for the 147 Republicans who voted to overturn the election.

Here is the link for info on the 10 Senators expelled in 1861

Tragedy upon tragedy

Every year since 9/11, I’ve paid tribute to these two men who died in the Twin Towers. I nearly skipped this year because I’ve been focused on the numbers of Americans who’ve died in the pandemic. Covid deaths dwarf those lost in the attacks, over 200,000 to date, but that doesn’t negate what happened 19 years ago. What happened then was awful and what is happening now is awful. Again, we have a national reckoning.

It’s a difficult time, but that’s been the norm throughout history. Wars, pandemics, and human cruelty have always existed and we are at a tipping point to decide if we have the heart and stomach to pursue a more just, kinder, more equitable society. At least it is clear where people stand. In that respect, 2020 has been a great unveiling on every level. The brief unity we had in the days after the 9/11 attacks is a distant memory, but that doesn’t mean we cannot return to a nation unified to solve its problems as impossible as that looks at the moment. We owe that much to ourselves and those lives lost both in the pandemic and on 9/11, including these two men:

Robert  John Halligan
Robert Halligan, Age: 59
Residence: Basking Ridge, NJ
Two WTC, 99th Floor
Aon Corporation, Vice President


From the NYT (11/15/2001) SHOPPING ACROSS THE POND

To a proud Englishman, America is a country of vexing insufficiencies. Its supermarkets know not of H.P. (House of Parliament) sauce and tins of steak and kidney pie. Marmite, sadly, remains a mystery.

Several times a year, London-born Robert Halligan, 59, a vice president at Aon, an insurance brokerage firm, would cross the pond to stock up on such indelicacies. He would cheer on his beloved Tottenham Hotspurs, visit his sprawling family, including five adult children, and drop by a specialty shop to add to the locomotive steam engine models he had been collecting since his trainspotting boyhood. Every weekend he brought the old country to his wife, Jerrie, and their son, Trevor, in Basking Ridge, N.J., by cooking a lard-loving British breakfast (sloppy bacon, fried bread, eggs splashed with grease) and Sunday lunch (roast, two vegetables, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding).

Yet for someone who clung to his British identity, Mr. Halligan flourished in America, where he moved with Jerri, his American wife. He gardened here, played golf and danced beautifully. He was a kind, solicitous grandfather of 10 with a knack for joke- telling. And here he celebrated the holiday he loved even more than Christmas: as a citizen of two countries, Robert Halligan adored Thanksgiving.


Ehtesham Raja, Age: 28
Place of Residence: Clifton , NJ
TCG Software

Ehtesham U. Raja of Clifton, NJ was 28 years old when he died in the World Trade Center. He’d gone there for a conference and was in Windows on the World. He was a 1996 graduate of The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia. He had his MBA from Goizueta Business School at Emory. His nickname: Shamu, from his friends in Pakistan.

His parents, Raja Aftab Saeed and Begum Asmat Fatima, donated the land for the Arifwala Hospital, a 40-bed facility, fully equipped with diagnostic and curative services, inaugurated on January 19th, 2009. The hospital is dedicated to their son, Raja Ehtesham Ullah, who lost his life on 9/11. All medical equipment was funded by LRBT America. We have also pledged to fund the hospital’s annual operating budget. (note: the hospital is in Pakistan and fights blindness)

From the Emory Goizueta Memorial site (Ehtesham Raja ’98MBA):

“He was a very kind, caring, compassionate, loving, and intelligent person,” says his mother, Asmat Fatima. “He was respected and admired by those who knew him. His talent and sense of humor made him standout in any crowd. But it was his loving and caring attitude that always made me proud.”

Raja, born in Lahore, Pakistan, worked for TCG Software in Bloomfield, N.J. After graduating with a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from Columbia University in New York City, he worked as a security engineer at Citibank on Wall Street, then, according to his Goizueta Business School application, he returned to Pakistan to work for Citibank Lahore, take the GMAT, and apply to business school.

“He was in the best years of his life,” says Fatima. “Everything seems to be going in his favour. After years of dedication and hard work he finally achieved this status. He had all the plans to pursue his career in finance. He was full of hope for his future.”

Raja also enjoyed sports. He was a swimmer and played cricket, squash, soccer, tennis, and polo while at Columbia.

A memorial service was arranged by TCG Software. “They were proud to have him working for them,” his mother says.

“It is still very hard to believe that he is missing and lost forever,” she continues. “I have to be emotionally strong as Ehtesham has a younger brother, who is at a very impressionable age.

“[Ehtesham] knew life and lived life. His time was limited but in that time he touched so many people. . . . May peace be with him now and forever. He will stay in our hearts and memories forever.”

Rest in peace, Mr. Halligan and Mr. Raja.