Stupid Monkey

It was nearly dark when Rebecca got to the hostel. She’d flown from New York to San Jose that morning, gotten bilked taking a cab from the airport to the chaotic bus station, just caught the four-hour bus ride to Quepos.

Standing in line to check in, there was a lightness about her. The others had huge, heavy packs jammed tight with anything and everything that might be needed. She had a small, blue, worn daypack, and a tubular cloth bag over one shoulder that did not even seem full. I wondered how it could possibly carry all she’d need to Quepos.

I was working from a bench near the office, the only place with wireless access to the internet. When they arrived from the bus, I asked the group where they were from. The others were from Germany. Rebecca said, “New York, originally from Oregon.”

“Really,” I said, “where in Oregon?”


“I grew up in Portland. Now I’m from Sisters.”

“I just LOVE Sisters! I was actually raised for a few years in Bend!”

She joined me after checking in. We were soon talking about anything and everything, but my butt was sore from perching on the wood bench and I asked if we could move to the plastic chairs by the pool.

“Let me put my things away, then come back out. Do you mind?” she said.

Um, no, I didn’t mind at all, but wasn’t she too tired after all that travel? Not at all, she said.

We sat by the pool and talked. Every pause was filled by her asking another question: what I did, where I’d been, and how. Each of my questions drew at least two from her. She didn’t avoid answering, just seemed to have an insatiable curiosity about anything and everything going on around her.

Rebecca works for a Non Governmental Organization in New York, one focused on the environment. After graduating from Berkeley, she earned two Masters degrees, one in Anthropology and the other in Environmental Science. She was debating a PhD., her thesis proposal about how evolution changes itself, that the successful alter the environment that created the success, altering the next evolutionary phase.

The world was her lab.  From what I could piece together, she may have spent more years on the road than at any place she called “home,” since she turned 18. Central America. Colombia. India.

We talked about Oregon, about African Palms spanning hundreds of roadside kilometers along the highway from Jaco to Quepos. They are raised for palm oil, she told me, subsidized by the U.S. taxpayer, destroying local ecosystems and often the local way of life. She said returning indigenous people to their native habitat often was a better way of protecting that habitat than walling it off in preserves.

We talked about writing, travel, disagreed about the role of poverty in raising children ready to learn.

“It’s a culture problem,” I said, not knowing the word “culture” has become a “dog whistle” flagging racism.

“What do you mean a ‘culture’ problem?”

“I mean teachers are expected to solve problems that result from changes to culture, often driven by technology. It’s not just a matter of poverty. By focusing on poverty I think we often do the wrong things for all the right reasons.”

That seemed to mollify her. She had friends in New York struggling to do meaningful work, pay the mortgage, and have a family, who give their kids a latte when they pick them up from daycare so they can spend a waking hour with them in the evening.

“That’s what I mean by it being a culture problem. We want to have children, but don’t make the sacrifices, or can’t make the sacrifices, that raising children requires. Day care may not be sufficient. It isn’t just an issue of lacking resources.”

Rebecca is the youngest of six children, of which she said,  “Much, much easier than being the oldest.” That was typical, I’d learn; she looked at most events and situations in her life as a gift.

It wasn’t just that she traveled light. She seemed unburdened, without desire to pour out her story, or in need of affirmation. She absorbs, she asks. Perhaps her soul is like that round shoulder bag, with an extra dimension where the heaviness goes.

After two days in San Jose, where she would learn the priorities of groups she worked with, she was off to the Amazon to meet teams on the ground, and learn even more. She laughed out loud at herself when she said a cab driver asked if she had gotten Friday off work to come to Costa Rica, and she realized that she had completely failed to tell anyone at work she was leaving early so she could spend a couple of days exploring Costa Rica.

I asked if she would be gone for one week, two weeks, maybe a month, with everything carried in a small blue backpack and light round bag that must have an extra dimensions rather than pockets for all the things it must hold. She wasn’t sure.

She planned to go to the famous beachside Manuel Antonio Park the next day. We agreed to meet after breakfast and go together.

I almost didn’t recognize her in the lunch room, she had transformed into someone quite plain. She wore a long sundress, a shapeless ball cap, carried the blue pack. Her work in other countries, many requiring modesty, had taught her how to avoid drawing attention or giving offense.

We saw iguana, and incredible spiders. Crowds stopped to take pictures of sloths, birds, or monkeys. The sky was clear except for tall, bright white cumulus clouds offshore that highlighted the blues of sky and ocean, greens of the jungle that came to the edge of yellow sand where people played in the waves.

Some of her previous work was emotionally grinding: Interviewing Indian women from areas along the Bay of Bengal who had lost husbands, babies, or entire families to the tsunami that rolled in after the earthquake in Indonesia. Many were alone.

“Why do they choose to go on living?” I asked. She didn’t know the strictures in any one religion against suicide.

“There were a lot of tears,” she said. After doing interviews all day, she would go back to her hotel and write up reports intended to put faces on numbers that could possibly describe the magnitude, but never the depth, of suffering. It was hard, hard work in many dimensions.

At the famous Manuel Antonio beach, raccoons came up as soon as we put our packs down and pilfered a banana from hers that had been wrapped in a blue cloth napkin. The couple next to us said the raccoons actually unzipped their pack to get the goodies inside. I crossed the single cord “line” to retrieve her napkin, she laughingly called me her hero.

The spider monkey was nearly as bold, but at least he didn’t bare his teeth when we chased him away. He ran off in a gallop on all fours. I  hung our packs on small branches in the tree to at least slow him down.

On a short exploration, we saw a tree dedicated to a biologist. It reminded Rebecca of a book she had read about a biologist who had studied the hallucinogens of South America, how various indigenous people regarded some of these plants as gods, and protected them from the white man.

“I missed out on the hallucinogens,” she said. “My sister was a social worker and had stories of people she worked with, and would say sometimes that drugs were the reason or part of the reason they were so screwed up. That pretty much settled that.”

I confessed to my somewhat extensive background with hallucinogens, noting that I had not had any drugs, not even a drink, in nearly 30 years.

“Congratulations,” she said, but I said that congratulations are not really in order for an act performed with a gun to my head. I asked her about children, why that wasn’t a priority for her.

“Kids would be nice, if that happens. But I don’t think it’s necessary to have children for my life to have value or meaning.”

We agreed on that, but my question was about how she avoided that self-definition, when so many women did not, for what I thought were biological reasons.

“I don’t know,” she said at first, but I pressed. Eventually she said, “When I look at the choices I’d have to make, they just aren’t that appealing.”

Later on she said, “it wasn’t really a choice. It just seemed like that was what happened. One thing kind of led to another.”

I asked if she had no desire to settle down, be with someone, if someone hadn’t asked her to do so.

“Most of the men I’ve dated were good with this, and they were doing their own thing. As to being with someone who wanted to be together all the time, I just don’t think that’s necessary or a good thing. No.” she shook her head and seemed to recoil from the idea.

“No. Just no?” I questioned.

She shook her head at the idea, again as if it gave her a shiver.

I wanted to know why she exposed herself to all that suffering, the futility of protecting an environment against money that would usually, if not always, win. “What are you going to do?” she asked back, as if the answer was simply obvious; the fight  necessary even if victory beyond grasp.

I write about vibrant dreams and crushed hope to gather about me significance, I confessed. By working on behalf of women who’ve lost children, for others thrown off their land or had their culture destroyed by greed and corruption, she feels value, connection, to something important.

“Doesn’t that make us both voyeurs, in a way?” I ask, but realize quickly the question needs far more context, especially with this woman living so far out on the edge, and change my own subject.

Rebecca told me about a good friend who was writing a book, who had served in another NGO as a human shield: The job was to stick closely to a person who was a likely target of murder in a foreign land.

“Either the person already had body guards, or didn’t want them.  It’s a big deal to kill someone from the U.S. She was basically protecting them with the color of her skin, and her passport.”

This same friend said one time to Rebecca, “I’m terribly intolerant of a life without meaning.”

That was the best answer.

We found another beach quite close to the first. There were places in the shade under a large tree that had dropped tiny green apples to the sand.

“Are these apples?” I asked. “They look like apples.”

The leaves of the tree, though not the tree’s shape, even looked a little like those of an apple tree.

I picked one up and carefully bit into the fruit, expecting something incredibly bitter or sour, but was surprised that the initial taste was of tropical fruit, maybe like guava, not unpleasant.

“Why are those stupid monkeys stealing Cheetos, when they have all this good fruit lying around?” I said, trying to be funny. I usually prefer Cheetos to apples, too, given a choice.

About 10 minutes later, my mouth started to burn. We had found a place mostly in the shade, Rebecca had put out her beach cloth, I was on my towel. I had the best cell reception I’d had since the airport in Houston, I read, even made an internet phone call back home.

Rebecca was reading, but before long the Kindle fell to her stomach, her hands to her side on the sand. Her mouth moved, she was talking to someone in a dream.

As the minutes went on, the burning in my mouth became intense, worse than any chili pepper I’d ever eaten. Even though I had eaten none of the flesh, I could tell some of the juice had gone down my throat. My body was generating a phenomenal amount of thick saliva to wash away the heat. I tried to read as I shooed away iguanas that were wandering surprisingly close.

I was relieved when one picked up an “apple.” If the wildlife ate them, I was on safer ground, ignoring that an iguana might have a digestive tract slightly different than mine.

The iguana spit it out.

I stood, I walked, I spit into the sand. I realized the great cellphone reception I had would probably let me look up this little fruit, and at least put my mind at ease.

The phrase in Spanish translated as, “little apples of death.” That didn’t quite put my “mind at ease.” The manchineel is one of the most poisonous trees in the world. Standing under the tree when it’s raining can result in skin blistering.  Eating the little apples with the lovely scent “… may produce severe gastroenteritis with bleeding, shock, bacterial superinfection, and the potential for airway compromise due to edema. Patients with a history of ingestion and either oropharyngeal burns or gastrointestinal symptoms should be evaluated for admission in hospital…”

When Rebecca wakes up, she says, “naps are good.”

“You want the good news, or the bad news?” I ask her.

“The bad news.”

I read what I found about the “little apples of death.”

“What’s the good news?”

“I don’t know there is any.”

She shows immediate concern, but I try to put her mind at ease.

“If this is my last day on Earth, thank you for making it so enjoyable.”

She laughs, then does me one better.

“Those stupid monkeys…” she says.

“Yeah, what could they be thinking? Why raid backpacks when they have all this wonderful natural food available?” I add.

I go out into the ocean to gargle salt water. When I get back, I say, “You were sound asleep, dreaming.”

“I can fall asleep anywhere. One time I was on an airplane coming back from Colombia and sitting next to this nice man. We talked, I gave him my business card. Everyone around us could tell we were strangers. I fell asleep, and when I woke up I was completely wrapped around him, drooling on his shoulder. He called me for a year.”

“Are you a spy?” I ask, but she laughs and says she’d make a terrible spy, falling asleep on strangers.

“Or a very, very good one,” I say, but she convinces me she’s not.

She wanted to take another walk through the park, but what I read of the “little apple of death” made me want to be closer to medical help if needed, get some milk into my stomach and hit my drug supply back at the room. Nexium was one suggested treatment. I had something similar.

“You carry medicine for this?” asked Rebecca.

“You never know when you’re going to want a poison apple,” I said.

Another way of absorbing the poison was charcoal.

“What kind of charcoal?” she asked, wondering how that would work.

“I generally prefer Round Oak, but without the lighter fluid.”

“I admire your attitude,” she said at one point. “I think I would be in more of a panic.”

“Tell them I went out laughing. May I buy you dinner as compensation for missing the afternoon walk?”

“It’s a deal.”

At the hostel I took omeprazole, ate a yogurt, showered and changed, only to find that Rebecca had showered, changed, gone to the bus station to buy her ticket to San Jose, inquired at the front desk what restaurants were recommended, and was ready to go.

She wore a shoulderless long dress, a bit of lipstick, her hair free of the cap. I was stunned how she went from plain girl to such an alluring woman. Chameleon.

I sat at an adjacent side of the small square table so we could each look out at the street, so I could hear her over the din just beyond the step of the restaurant that had no barrier between tables and traffic.

At one point I asked if her heart had ever been broken, that I was sure she had broken many. She didn’t think either was true, her relationships mostly ended by a mutual consent.

“I’ve never been in a wrenching, unbalanced relationship, or ending. We’d talk about it, come to the conclusion it wasn’t working out.” She’d ended a relationship just a couple of months before, after five years. There were plans to get a place in Maine, but it just wasn’t working. He had suggested living together again in New York, but that was just a way of putting off the inevitable.

I confessed to wrenching breakups, suffering more than once from a broken heart. She asked if there was any way my marriage might have worked out, given the successful child rearing partnership, respect and affection I expressed for my ex-wife. I said no, despite the positives, we were just two too-different people.

I asked what she thought was required for a successful relationship. She turned the question around on me, which she was so good at doing. I said, shared vision and values, empathy, respect, and chemistry (letting myself think of how she looked asleep on the sand that afternoon, the balance of strength and and curve).

“You know, don’t you, that when I write my book, the stupid monkeys are going to be in it,” she said.

“You don’t think I’ll write about it?” I said. “I think ‘The Stupid Monkey’ has to be the title.”

We lingered after dinner until I saw her fidget with her purse; I paid and we went back to the hostel, where she asked if I would mind reading from her Kindle a book on the impact of modernity to religion in India, while she read another piece of my writing, from my phone. Flattered, I said yes.

After she finished reading what I wrote, we traded back and she read her book and I gazed at the day, looking forward and backward in time while trying to avoid the present. She was going north to San Jose, I was headed south, to Panama.

I was sitting next to a woman for whom I would sacrifice nearly anything, maybe everything, at another place and time; gone anywhere to have her as a partner in life, if she would have, at any time, considered having me.

But I knew, even if she were tempted, at another place and time, I would want days that would come from her life’s quest, a sacrifice she could not make.

Her presence was so fluid and free, to reach for her would be to grasp with hands at air, or water, or light. What I could fall in love with would not survive my falling in love.

Even that wouldn’t have mattered. At a different time and place, I would have risked it.

But I could do nothing about the fact that I arrived about 25 years too early, for our first and only date.

When they’re ready*

Decades ago a dear friend, Bill, drove up my driveway with a very young boy. His brand new wife, a very unstable woman, had just committed suicide. The boy was her son.

Bill left the child with my wife and me for the day. We had a good time, if I remember. He played on the deck in a huge stainless bowl full of water. Late in the day, Bill came back and picked up the boy.

I don’t know when I realized Bill was trying to place his lost son with a family who could care for him. My wife and I weren’t ready. It was some time later we adopted our daughters from India, and they taught me some much needed lessons about unconditional love.

Years later I was meeting with my lawyer, Max, who was also a friend of Bill. We were laughing and doing legal business when Max told me Bill had visited him the same week he’d visited me. Max and his wife, Teresa, did not hesitate. They accepted the boy into their hearts and their family. The next couple of decades were not easy. But their commitment never waned.

Some years passed. I was again in need of Max’ legal fangs, and went to his office. On the floor, on a huge pillow, was the skinniest dog I’d ever seen. She barely struggled to her feet when I came in the room. Max mentioned that she was a bit of work, getting her out to go to the bathroom, lifting her in and out of the car. She didn’t have many days or weeks left, he said.

“Why don’t you put her down?” I asked.

“She isn’t ready,” quickly came Max’s reply.

You have to realize how much this startled me, coming from one of the toughest people I knew, an Irishman from Chicago who could make his blue coffee cup turn red with his every-day language.


“She isn’t ready.”

From there we argued about the Catholic Church, abortion, the I.R.A., the death penalty, homosexual priests,  etc. He was a damn good lawyer and had no problem defending what seemed to me contradictory superstitions. But he walked his talk, and taught me something by his actions, if not his words.

Not that I wasn’t receptive. I have been laughed at by more than one person for putting spiders outside, even houseflies. For using live traps for my kitchen mice, and driving them a half mile away so they wouldn’t beat me back to the house. That was all part of a deal I made with my higher power when a couple of pets suffered during a time I thought it was okay to kill porcupines. Long story.

Last week, I was helping a friend, Stacy, wrap up local business before she left the country to join her fiance and start a new life. One of the items on the agenda was finding a vet who would euthanize her two old dogs. Molly, who is quite old, has cancer and not long to live; the smaller one has cataracts. The clock was ticking.

I took over that difficult process. With the help of friends on Facebook, I found a kind local vet who would come and transition the animals. Everything was set to happen on Saturday. I was ready to foot the bill.

Before you judge Stacy, you need to know she is one of the most compassionate human beings you could ever hope meet. She assists people in grinding poverty, and in the last days of their lives. But Stacy had to go, and there was no one, even her ex who shared the dogs’ history, who could take them. And the dogs lived for her voice. This was mercy, not callousness.

On Tuesday I joined another of her friends who had a van to move Stacy’s furniture. I met the two dogs. Rubbed ears. Got sniffed. When I got home, I paced my living room for more than an hour. One thought kept pushing me around.

“They aren’t ready.”

All night and the next day I chewed on the fact that I was facilitating death, and they weren’t ready. But I could not take two dogs, especially a small yapper, and had no place for either while I escorted Stacy to her new love and life in Costa Rica.

Yes, I will mention the rainbow I saw to the north when I came to my decision. And pretend it’s irrelevant.

Right after which, Stacy left me a text: the small dog had a home! Some friends had come through, but could just take the little dog. I waited. I was willing to wait a day or two, too, while things resolved without my effort, but I was smiling a rainbow of my own.

Stacy called an hour and a half after texting.

“My heart is a little less heavy,” she said, as she asked for the telephone number to tell the vet there would just be one animal to euthanize.

“I’m going to lighten it the rest of the way,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Molly can stay here with me. I talked to the house-sitter earlier about taking on an old dog while I’m gone, and he said ‘sure.’ When I get back, Molly will be here with me until she’s ready to die. If it doesn’t work out for you in Costa Rica, you come back for her. If it does, I’ll have a life-long friend, even if that life isn’t too long.”

All I could hear were sobs on the other end of the line, because I was crying myself. I don’t really know why, except I knew it was my job to be the boatman to take Molly from this shore to the next.

Sometimes things work out just how how they’re supposed to, and that feeling is overwhelming. My tears were in gratitude for being where I was supposed to be, when I was supposed to be there, that I would be there when Molly was ready, and not send her on her way before she was.

I’m also looking forward to taking her to the beach, which I’m told is one of her favorite places. Mine too.

*Names have been changed.

You need to cry

When was the last time you cried? From loss, joy, relief, fear, gratitude? When was the last time you let yourself be that vulnerable?

Well, I’ll recommend it, especially on Thanksgiving. Because, I think, there is no way to really, truly give thanks without shedding a tear. Otherwise, you’re holding back. Not nearly thankful enough.

Yesterday a friend gave me a book, and I’m recommending it to you. There’s a couple of them, in fact. But first, know that these books will make you cry tears from being embraced by someone who knows, who cares, who has seen every thing you’ve been  through, and can see through you, as well. They will bring tears back to your eyes from things you’ve been hiding from yourself. That’s good.

Each was written by someone twice as smart as I ever thought I was, and twice as wise as I will ever be. Each was written by someone who may, just may, have a bit of the antidote for the toxic, inauthentic, self-absorbed yet indifferent world some of us can’t seem to find our way through. Each was written by a woman with strength that would intimidate a roomful of warriors.

Warning: these books are at times explicit, but always honest, human, literate; they will make you cry because of what the writers are not afraid to look at, not afraid to see, not afraid to feel. These books are emotional fire storms.

They will give you reason to say thanks.

“tiny beautiful things,” by Cheryl Strayed.

“Bluets,” by Maggie Nelson.

Chalice is available

Late last night, I received notice that “Chalice” is now available on Amazon, Apple’s iBook store (go to iTunes and search on “Erik Dolson”), Barnes and Noble (not quite yet), and the Vook Store.

I should have a hard copy in my hands next Tuesday, with the first print run available soon after.

What an odd mix of emotions. Fear, elation, pride, anxiety. Chalice was close to two years in the writing, some of that the hardest work I have ever undertaken. After four or so hours, I would stagger from my table and run the river trail, lift weights, get the mail, or just vegetate away from where I work, unable to string two sentences together.

“Chalice” is not perfect. Every time I opened the file, I would find things that just had to be changed. So I finally “locked down” the file. After 20 or so readers reviewed writes and rewrites, after endless edits, after the second round of proofreading by a professional, I had to let it go and be what it is. And it is not perfect.

But it is the best I can do, at this moment, on this book. And I am proud of it. “Chalice” is an exploration of ideas that are significant to me and many of you. It is a sharing of my playground, an intersection of language, passion, and reflections on what’s real and what’s important.

“Chalice” is not for everyone. As an exchange of emails, “Chalice” is in a format that some  may find difficult to follow. The characters are flawed, and many might find their exchanges  unpleasant. There is a sex scene that was called gratuitous by one reader. It’s not, but it is graphic. If that’s going to disturb you, please don’t read. Another was put off by the fact that I dipped deeply into my personal experience to give the text “life.” Yes, I did, but “Chalice” is still a work of fiction.

But about a third of those who read early drafts found value in “Chalice.” Some said that value was significant for them. This validates the effort.

A word on pricing: I finally came to the conclusion that I had to be my own guide on this. I priced the ebook at $4.95 because I think “Chalice” is worth the price of two cups of coffee, even for readers who don’t like it.

I initially set the price of the paperback at $14.95, then learned I would receive 3¢ for each book sold. Three cents. At the print distributor’s suggestion, and his noting that the book would be discounted by book sellers anyway, I repriced at $19.95 and will receive about $2.30 of that.

If enough sell so we can go to offset printing, I hope the price will come down.

Thank you, friends, family, and readers I’ve never met but feel I know fairly well: You are the reason this book was written. I hope you think it was worth it.



Nearly every day, I look out windows of my treehouse at a rambling row of volcanos. Higher ones emerge from forests as rough crags of rock and ice. I’ve hiked the most gentle several times, to someplace above 10,000 feet, above the trees, where steep flanks of deep pumice and slag lead to ragged extrusions of stone.

That well-defined edge, where forests end and mountains declare indifference, is the timberline. There is life above the timberline, but life defined in different ways. Lichen rather than trees, or wheat. Beetles, rather than cattle. The timberline looks porous close up, but seems a sharp edge when seen from a distance.

Some places in the American Southwest hit 128 degrees the other day. Water freezes at 32 degrees, boils at 212. 122 degrees is halfway in between, but I would say that’s our “timberline” of temperature. I think life would be redefined on the other side.

Deserts have a “timberline” of sorts, where moisture to sustain species we relate to, or depend on, stops being available. Where hard oceans of crust, dust and rock butt up against the softness of river and pond, irrigated habitability.

I imagine there is a similar “timberline” of depth in the ocean, where pressures become so immense and blackness so deep that life, as we can relate to it, transitions from vibrant, lush, dart and dash,  swoop and swim, to a barren watery world of barely imaginable creatures.

Is there a “timberline” of health, too, an edge where the organization of organism breaks down? A line where suddenly, everything changes? Where broken hip or pneumonia are not just conditions but mark the boundary between life as we knew it and an afterlife unknowable, death all but certain?

Is there a “timberline” of society, where order and commerce, love and laughter, flirt and flamboyance, become chaos and violence, ugliness and horror, marking a place beyond which our species cannot survive? Is life as we know it possible in what we knew of as Syria, one of the oldest locales of civilization?

Is there a “timberline” of spirituality, where serenity ends at a rough jagged edge of chaos and madness, empty of all meaning or significance? Can that line be seen, or are the threats so subtle that the line is crossed without awareness, the bubble of spirit exhausted like altitude sickness on a mountain top, being too deep beneath the waves when the tank goes dry?

This week we plant trees and lavender around the treehouse. Maybe we’ll plant an apple tree, too, before the season turns. Go to a movie. Remember to meditate. Call my daughters. I need to plant myself, too, on this side of my timberlines.

Stupid love songs

My friend Greg does not like it when I say relationships between certain types of people can be “toxic;” some people may never have the person of their “dreams;” there isn’t always enough time to “fix” something; it might not be worth the effort.

“I want to believe that with enough work, enough understanding, enough knowledge, we can overcome problems in any relationship if there is love,” he said.

I would like to believe that too. But I have come to accept that sometimes the effort is counterproductive. When my tendency is to chase and resolve, my partner may just want a damn break. It is her right to have that break. Even if she is avoiding. Even if avoiding makes me want to try harder. Which makes her want to run faster. Etc.

What I was trying to say was not that it is always hopeless, but trying harder at what has not worked (except temporarily) in the past is unlikely to get us where we want to be.

We can’t change the response pattern of our partner through an act of our own will. All we can do is communicate. If she doesn’t see a problem in the relationship except how I behave, she gets to feel that way, regardless of how it makes me feel. Even if she doesn’t want to talk about it. She isn’t “wrong.”

“ ‘This isn’t working for me’ is different than saying ‘You’re not doing your part,’ ” an acquaintance pointed out the other day.

I was also trying to say to Greg there is a woman out there who may be “accessible, responsive, and engaged.” A partner as he defines it. Wanting that is not wrong, either.

It might be we have to look for her rather than think we can, or have the right to, make the one we want to be with want to want us. We have to be realistic about how much we put into it, how much time we have, what we expect in return.

We have to stop doing things because we are afraid of losing what we are driving away.

More comments on “Chalice”

Comments are arriving from readers of “Chalice” as we approach the end of April. This continues to be a very valuable process.

There will be more rewriting than I’d hoped, and not at the ending, where I expected to put in the work. For the most part, readers  affirm the conclusion of the novel. I was worried it would feel contrived. While there is still some tweaking, I am satisfied and reader response has been rewarding.

But several thoughtful people were so put off by the beginning that they did not believe a relationship could develop between the two characters. The irony is that this was intentional on my part.

I created an immediate conflict between the two to get a reader to invest and to display a difference in values. That was the “hook.”  I  think it is possible to start a friendship with a disagreement that can move to deeper discussion as people get to know one another. We enter relationships for many reasons, which is a major theme of the book.

But several readers reacted to this in a visceral way. If I want them to get past the first 70 pages, they need reasons besides an intellectual exercise. Several suggestions have been made, from an opening external crisis to simply toning down the personality. Perhaps more description of the allure will work.

We’ll see what the bookseller has to say, and there are other comments still to come in.

Is AAD “Real?”

Today I was asked if Adult Attachment Disorder was “real.” When asked what was meant, they responded by asking if AAD had a definition within The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) published by the American Psychiatric Association.

Yes and no.

Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) was first defined in the DSM-3, according to a review for the DSM-5 (an update due for release in May, 2013) written by Charles H. Zeanah, M.D., and Mary Margaret Gleason, M.D. for the American Psychiatric Association.

RAD is the name given to attachment disorders as they appear in children. The review by Dr.s Zeanah and Gleason will update the definition of RAD in a number of ways that reflect current research.

So the DSM does not have a definition of “Adult Attachment Disorder” per se. However, there is a substantial body of work relating RAD to adult behaviors (see: A Brief Overview of Adult Attachment Theory and Research by Dr. R. Chris Fraley).

The assumption is that behaviors around attachment developed in childhood impact relationships one is capable of forming as an adult, and possibly result from biological survival mechanisms.

Walking away

From hereRan into somebody who had read the short verse I wrote in January about a relationship that had just ended with a wonderful woman because our paths were not converging. That’s a hazard of falling in love later in life. I had forgotten I posted those personal emotions but was grateful this person enjoyed the “poem” and was moved by it. Had even read it.

Sometimes it is too easy in moods of “terminal uniqueness” to forget we share so many of these emotions and experiences. A friend, also a writer, talks of the universal nature of what brings us joy and heartbreak. That is part of the value in art, that ability to share experience. And to feel not quite so alone.

It took me a while to understand that, plus words from a friend going through a tough time who has recognized that “letting go,” while exquisitely painful, is sometimes the only path toward fulfillment if not self preservation.

That is one of the themes in Chalice and something I am trying to convey in It’s Nobody’s Fault. Sometimes one has to walk, or let our love walk. Because after enough break-ups and make-ups we know the pattern if not the causes, and we have to make a cold calculation that it is what it is.

That’s not to say there isn’t hope, only that change sometimes requires that … we make a change.

On Ice
holding only in my heart whom I’ve held in my arms,
distance great, time short, this is life’ sorting,
souls skate near to brush fingertips to lips,
momentum’s past push/pulls us apart,
your cashmere warmth my memory.