Category Archives: Books

“My tears watered my mother’s corpse.”

My tears watered my mother’s corpse. She was in her nursing home gown, the blanket pulled up to her waist. Her head was tilted to one side, her mouth open, her tongue visibly swollen as it had been in her last days. I wailed long, natural wails. Such a reaction I had not expected to rise out of me.

After a minute or two the crying and wailing subsided to sniffles. I turned around, looked about the room. I caught sight of a small placard on the shelf among her meager final belongings. It read, “Love conquers all. Virgil.” It had hung in her apartment a few years. I picked it up, placed it on my mother’s breastbone, and looked at her again.

A nurse had placed a teddy bear beside her previously. I don’t know whether my mother would have approved of such a sentimental measure. She was 70 at the time of her death. Would she have deemed it humiliating, condescending, clueless on the part of the nurse? In life my mother was a Sherman tank, at times. I chuckled at what she might like to say about her current predicament. A bringer of war has no need of a teddy bear, you moron, you imbecile. You are below me. Maybe she liked the teddy bear. But what did she care now. This tawdry arrangement of limbs, linens, child’s toy, and placard was for the mewing psychological requirements of we the living. At least she had the word “conquer” now on her chest. That would be acceptable under any circumstances.

The curtain was pulled around her nursing home bed for privacy. The effect was of a makeshift mausoleum. A pop-up tent for dead people to be humiliated beneath the gaze of their ungrateful, semi-estranged offspring. You mourn me now, vile children. Your display of grief is a lie. Where were you when I needed you? We were off avoiding you, Mom. None of us could stand you. Don’t forget who turned away whom. I’m not lying. Damn you, you wretch, you train wreck, you twisted mass of nature, I grieve you.

You blind archangel. Flaming sword of Quixotic justice. Stoker of fires for hot air balloons, crucible of my armor. I grieve you.

The wailing started up again, then subsided after another minute. I hung my head. Suddenly I felt to make sure she was actually dead. I needed to be sure. Sure enough, the skin on her hands and face was lifeless. I’d never felt a dead person before, but I could tell. I listened for breath. Nothing. I sat perfectly still and watched her chest: the placard didn’t move. I was sure now. I stood up. Watched her a minute or two longer. Snapped a morbid photo. I do not apologize for this last measure; I have only one or two of her from when she was alive. Dead Mom, living Mom — I’ll take any photo I can get.

The whole affair lasted not ten minutes. I backed away slowly. Turned.

Walked out.

For a good time, pay attention to men’s issues

I like the topic of men’s issues. It’s not exactly a popular topic. You might think men are all the media ever talks about, but generally speaking, the public doesn’t care about men as men. I don’t condemn that lack of public interest, but the fact that it is a neglected topic makes it all the more interesting to me, and it ought to be interesting to you as well. You might be surprised by what you can discover when you start looking at the male side of gender issues.

An article of mine appeared today at The Good Men Project (GMP), a left-leaning website devoted to men as men. It’s not a men’s rights advocacy website by any means (see A Voice for Men if you think you have the cojones to listen to and assimilate what they’re saying over there) but GMP does bring attention to the topic for a somewhat wider, more prime-time-friendly audience.

There’s a men’s issues angle to my upcoming book American Family, in that it chronicles my kidnapping as an infant by my mother from my father (got all those prepositions?) and the forces that fated it all. What my mother did was illegal and the courts looked the other way because she was a female who claimed distress. There are of course many sides to this story, and I am not giving anyone the benefit of the doubt based on gender. Women do not get a free pass with me, nor are they automatically suspected of foul play. Same goes for the men. What my book will offer is a clear-eyed view of my own past — as clear-eyed as I can be, anyway — based on my own memories, interviews with living witnesses to the events, hard research about social forces, psychology, and otherwise — along with years of critical thinking and meditation on the story. I want to get this right. My purpose in writing American Family is to help others come to a modicum of peace with similar elements in their own life stories — while telling a gripping story in and of itself. It’s a tough project. Subscribe to this blog to be the first to read it.

And that’s just one of the many pies I’ve got my fingers in these days. Thanks for reading.

1-minute documentary: “19 Years” by Pablo Jones

Here I describe being kidnapped by my mother when I was an infant, why she did it, and how it affected me and my father. The documentary was filmed and edited by artist and renaissance man Pablo Jones. I share this one-minute documentary with you because it is related to a book project of mine, American Family, an epic about my family in all its phantasmagoria.

Enjoy and share.

Brief Review of “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” by Rafe Esquith

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56
Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 by Rafe Esquith

My rating: 5 of 5 stars This was instructional but mostly it was beautiful. I cried. This teacher will blow your mind over and over and over. Read it if you are a teacher, but also read “Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire” if you want to know how to live a better life. I learned – and re-learned – a few priceless lessons. View all my reviews >>

On Anger and Rage

My mother smoked a pack of cigarettes and washed down the tar with a pot of coffee every single day of her pregnancy with me.

My eighth birthday party ended when I ran around screaming into all of my guests’ faces freaking everybody out and crying for absolutely no apparent reason.

Are these two facts connected?

According to my dad, William Fleeman, the founder and CEO of Pathways to Peace, Inc., a not-for-profit education and training corporation on anger management:

People with anger problems use anger like a drug, to change feelings of powerlessness into feelings of power.
That belief of his comes from experience. From the Pathways to Peace Founder’s Story (available in its entirety here) :
I got in my first fistfight when I was eight. It happened at school. Another kid made fun of me because he knew I didn’t have a father. From early childhood I felt worthless and alone, powerless and afraid. That’s how kids feel when their fathers abandon them. The kid’s remarks hooked my feelings of abandonment and pushed my self-esteem even lower. I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach; then I shoved the kid down the school steps.
Watching the kid tumble down the steps, I felt my first “anger high.” The other kids who cheered me on added to the high. The high lasted only an instant, but for that instant I felt a sense of power I had never felt before. I felt confident instead of afraid, accepted instead of rejected, strong instead of weak. What I felt, felt good. The kid was not hurt. Neither of us suffered bad results. The teacher who broke up the fight merely talked to us.
Later that day the high went away, and all of the negative feelings I felt about myself came back. But that fight on the school steps changed me. The change lasted most of the rest of my life. A new part was added to my character: a part I could not seem to control, a part I was not even aware of, a part that would continue to seek the rush of power I felt when I shoved that kid down the stairs. Over time that part would grow big and strong. Finally it would run my life. Later I would find out what it was. It was anger and rage.
That fight on the school steps caused me to form another new belief: anger is power. That belief influenced my behavior for the next 35 years.
I can relate, of course. He’s had more time to calm down, also of course. I’m 27. I still get these rushes of adrenaline once in awhile for no apparent reason. I generally don’t freak out anymore. Instead, my voice takes on a new tone, though I don’t scream and yell. My eyes start smoking, and I have to look away from the person I’m with, or else I’ll give them a look they won’t quickly forget. I’ve been told I have an expressive face, which doesn’t make it any easier to conceal my anger.
It’s rare. I’m glad I’ve calmed down. I look forward to calming down more every day. Whether the problem is genetic or learned, I still think the only way to deal with it is to get to know it, and then to sincerely try to solve it. The following workbook might help you if you have anger problems of your own: