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Freudian Slips

My mother, as a carefree young medical student at the U of Vienna, before the genocide.


There are many who do not know they are fascists but will find it out when the time comes.


― Ernest Hemingway, "For Whom the Bell Tolls"



My mother became a neo-Freudian psychoanalyst later in life, studying at the dining room table while my sister was still in her high chair and I was doing my homework. I remember the day she first mentioned Freudian slips. I thought she was talking about underwear, but no, it wasn't that. It took me a few years to understand that she thought she knew more than I knew about me because she could peer into my unconscious, via malaprops, which she called Freudian slips. What teenager wants an intrusive mother in her face? Rhetorical question. That said, I would have enjoyed her take on Tucker Carlson's obsession with testicles and testosterone. Let me try to understand: Because the All-American White Male is losing his potency, he has to air out his testicles on a beach in the Bahamas. Get some sun on them. Is that it? In one frame in Tucker's testosterone video, a  naked man on top of a pile of rocks exposes his genitals to a red light emanating from an air purifier to the sounds of a film score resembling  the 2001 Space Odyssey.


What say you Freudians among us?


Equally fascinating are the pundits who have not mentioned that this obsession is a wee bit weird, a wee bit idiotic. As the Roman Gladiator Decimus Maximus once said, "There is only one thing worse than an idiot: An idiot with a following."  Meaning that the idiot is a demagogue and like all demagogues, he is vulgar, racist, a whore among orators. Yet, when Tucker and/or Trump—and at times they seem interchangeable—spew their falsehoods, there is a flame inside them that attracts a huge following, even love letters from bereft women yet to be abused or raped. (Hitler was the recipient of many love letters.) These men live on spite and hate. They resemble mangy wolves scouring the dregs of society in the hinterland.  


America has a long tradition of demagogues on its air waves—radio before television, television before cable. I'm reminded of Father Charles Coughlin, who I studied in graduate school. I listened to his screeds at the Museum of Broadcasting as Philip Roth must have as he was writing The Plot Against America. Or, maybe Roth heard them live.  


Coughlin railed against the Jews as Hitler was murdering my family. Of the 120 million Americans alive at that time, 30 million listened to this demagogue on the radio. My family had just arrived in New York as refugees, and when they turned on the radio, they wondered if Hitler had arrived in America before them. Coughlin was finally shut down in 1942  by FDR's Attorney General, Francis Biddle, but it took America's entry into the war after Pearl Harbor to invoke the controversial 1917 Espionage Act to shut him down.


God Bless America and our First Amendment. The Europeans think we are nuts, that someone is shouting fire in the theater all the time, a loophole in our democracy, or a black hole?

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My Dentist is a Storyteller

Dr. Thomas Cingel poses for my camera on a recent visit.


You mean people pay you to do this to them? I thought you had captured these people and brought them here against their will! How do I become a dentist?"


 Michael Buckley, "Magic and Other Misdemeanors"



I remember the first time I met my dentist, not my long-ago dentist—actually, there have been several—but  my new dentist, the one I found through a friend of my daughter's after I moved upstate. His office in Kingston, NY is about a forty-minute drive from where I live, and I was in toothache agony until I got there, my husband driving, of course.  I'd already been to a dentist in my small town that day and all s/he wanted to do was take my blood pressure and insurance information.  I walked out, called round to friends and family to get referrals, and zipped up to Kingston. 


I am not a fluoride baby; no one in my generation is, and I lived in England for ten years. If memory serves, the Brits resisted fluoride in drinking water until--hard to believe--2021. And don't get me started about National Health British Dentistry. National Health everything else is okay, more than okay, but not dentistry. No instruction in preventive protocols. No regular cleanings. My husband and I have paid the price. Our mouths are pock-marked with fillings and implants and god knows what else. Not to mention that I have vivid memories of my long-ago pediatric dentist giving me a lollipop as I walked out the door because I had behaved myself in the dental chair. How sweet, no pun intended.


Enter Dr. Thomas Cingel DDS, a graduate of SUNY Buffalo, raised in a modest middle class family, an upstater, married to a mid-wife and raising two adorable children. His office is an oasis of competent health care and human connection, more so, if that is possible, during Covid. But it was before the PPEs and masks that I first took notice of Dr. Cingel as an exceptional person, as well as an exceptional high-tech artisanal dentist. He had told me a story about seeing a "live" painting for the first time in a museum.  I'm not even sure he'd remember this as he tells many stories to many patients every day, but I do. I'd never met anyone who had not been to a museum, because everyone I knew when I grew up in a big city, and then lived overseas in a big city, wouldn't think twice about going to a museum, or how special it is.   I wanted to respond, but I couldn't. My mouth was open as he was working on something—a sick molar probably—but I listened attentively and took it in.


All dentists love to talk, but not all of them are good storytellers, or have written amusing, illustrated books called Avid Flosser  about the importance of flossing, or are taking a class in stand-up comedy because they are hyper-aware of the absurdity of contemporary life and care, really care, about people. I lucked out with Dr. Cingel, and so did my aging teeth, whatever is left of them.


This post is dedicated to the front line workers in Dr. Cingel's office: Sharon, Karen, Jackie, Kayla and Dagny.


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Reading Backwards

 Kyiv at night. Photo © copyright Peter Zalmayev 2023 with permission


He had not gone to the West to study "the art of government." Although in Protestant Europe he was surrounded by evidence of the new civil and political rights of individual men embodied in constitutions, bills of rights and parliaments, he did not return to Russia determined to share power with his people.


=Robert K. Massie, Peter the Great; His Life and World



As soon as I started writing about  Peter Zalmayev. a broadcaster in Ukraine, a man I have met and admire, I realized how little I knew about Russian and Ukrainian history, or even that it is necessary to separate them. I had memories of my husband's shelf of books about Russia when we lived in London. He had studied Russian at the Holborn School of Languages, and then entered an MA program in International Relations at the London School of Economics. His books were left behind when we returned to New York, but Jim's insight and knowledge traveled with us back to America. I am therefore blessed with a live-in expert on Russian, Ukrainian and Polish history, not to mention family connections; his father was born in Poland, his grandmother in Kiev, now Kyiv, the name change a history lesson in itself. I remember his grandmother well, our struggles to communicate, her home-made yogurt.


As the horrendous shooting war on the European continent continues unabated, and without a ceasefire in sight, I decided to deepen my education beginning with the Robert K. Massie history of Peter the Great, a page turner. Emperor from 1682-1725, he understood that, compared to the Europeans, Russia was "backward." His goal was to bring it forward into what we now call "the enlightenment."  He spoke several languages, traveled incessantly, but he was also a warrior who defeated the Swedes and the Turks with his well-trained army, and many mercenaries in that army. (There were mercenaries in every army in those days and they shifted sides often.)


Are the seeds of the current war between Russia and Ukraine in these pages? And how, if at all, could it have been prevented? And how will it end? I have no definitive answers other than, yes, every past has a future, the fault lines are there as they are in every nation's history, including ours, but there are also rogues, despots and renegades who turn the rivers of change to their selfish advantage. Given the advances Russia made since the fall of the Soviet Union, we'd have to say that Putin is a rogue and a despot, a throwback to an era even before Peter the Great came to the throne, and that the Russian Federation is experiencing a steep and rapid devolution. I hope we cannot say the same for these United States.


Ever hopeful as I read, both backwards and forwards into the text, I search for interesting quotidian details to relieve the stress of endless battles, domestic mischief, and cruel punishments. Peter's peasant wife Catherine had twelve children, and traveled to meet him on the battlefield while pregnant. Their love letters are quoted in the book, and they are fascinating and beautifully written, albeit in translation. Peter loved ships and became a master shipbuilder. His sojourns in Holland, England, and Versailles, after the death of Louis XIV, were remarkable. Imagine what travel was like in those days: arduous. And one can feel the efflorescing culture of diplomacy in Peter's efforts, his fascination with the world beyond Russia's borders, his insatiable willingness to learn. Indeed, he was brilliant and forward thinking, though often misguided and ruthless. He also drank a lot, as did so many others in his entourage. And though weapons were cruder in those days, he understood that once they were launched, the damage was done and the battle begun.


Every act of war, then and now, has both deliberate and unintended consequences, consequences that reverberate and threaten to break us all beyond repair.


This post is dedicated to Daniel Ellsberg and his family. 

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Chasing Ghosts

photo  © copyright Michael Gold 2023 with permission



After all, the true seeing is within.


― George Eliot, "Middlemarch"



There have been complicated and painful estrangements in my life, but I have never been "ghosted" by a friend until recently. I'm a writer; communication is my middle name. Talking, writing, thinking about what I say or don't say, and how to say it, deep listening when I interview people, maintaining a civil discourse between combative parties using my certificate studies in mediation and conflict resolution—all of these tools have worked for me most of the time. Communication takes practice and it's never perfect; I am never perfect. But shunning a friend, especially an old friend, well, it's just not something I'd do, or even think of doing.  It's a calculated—albeit silent—act unworthy of civilized people.


So, I was perplexed, and also sad, when two women friends ghosted me. As there have been two such painful events, I've had to ask myself whether or not I did anything wrong, hurtful, or foolish. And the answer is: nothing that warrants such callous, hostile behavior. And ghosting is callous, totally unlike anything I have experienced before, contemporary in its provocative intensity, an expression of grievance, hate and rage. Is it possible that my two highly intelligent, well-educated, accomplished friends have caught this disease? That we all went a little insane during the pandemic? Is it possible that our reliance on electronic media to sustain connection during the pandemic has distorted our human connections?  


But then another thought crossed my troubled, feminist mind: Would any of my male friends do this to me? And, I'd have to say, I don't think so, though I'm not sure why not. I know that men ghost women in the online dating universe—so many horror stories, akin to emotional abuse. Are my women friends mirroring this behavior and feeling more powerful? Or, are they experiencing the frustrations and challenges of aging in an agist society and shedding relationships they find, what? Dear Reader, please fill in the blank.


I won't hypothesize further. My ghosting friends have my contact information and know that I will answer all missives and phone calls promptly, should they ever want to talk or write. And though I remain hopeful, and keep my heart open, I don't know how I would feel about a reconnection without apologies, self-examination on both sides,  and a slow renewal of trust—the essence of loving friendships and nations at peace.


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Our Better Angels

 We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.


-Abraham Lincoln, from the First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1861



Though I am profoundly secular, I cannot abstain entirely from the imperatives of what for so many in the world is a contemplative, holy week: Passover, Easter, Ramadan. I am not a student of religion, so perhaps the Hindus also have such a week; if so, please educate me.  


I have no plans to pray this holy week—prayer has always eluded me—though I will listen attentively as others pray, and if a person of the faith, any faith, blesses me at the end of a conversation or an encounter, I will  accept and cherish the blessing.


Thank you to all the believers out there for remaining hopeful that this worrisome world will right itself before the apocalypse, or that we will forestall an apocalypse—environmental, political, or both. Are we celebrating the first of several indictments? Not just yet.


Let us pray!!


Two of my doctors are observant Jews. They enter the office to examine me wearing yarmulkes and ask how is my family. If the family is healthy, we are well, one of them says, a faith based on modern medicine as well as religious tenets, I suppose. I recite the news of the wellness or medical challenges in my family and include myself in the dissertation. The examination proceeds apace as I continue,"This time of year, I think of my family murdered in the camps and my great-uncle Arnold, a doctor such as yourself, who tried to save people before their transport from Terezin to Auschwitz, or perhaps ease their passage." My observant and religiously observant physician probably did not expect such a long, pithy answer, but I can't get my lost family out of my mind, or disregard them, ever. Not to mention the recent atrocities in Ukraine, or the unexpected demise of so many lost to Covid, or at the hands of police, or the violence and demonstrations in Israel and Palestine, or the parched Salt Lake, and so on, all over the world.


Are we being tested, I wonder, and if so, by whom, or what? Have we inflicted all these afflictions upon ourselves?


My secular existence aside, the Talmud and the Mishnah are intriguing for a writer. These are commentaries, discussions, critiques of the text, a historic template for a writer's workshop. And written so long ago. Millenia.


Perhaps there are explanations of human cruelty in these tomes, and guidance for an altruistic path forward, such as this one: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief… Walk humbly now…You are not obligated to complete the work. But neither are you free to abandon it." Various riffs on this aphorism turned up on social media a lot during the pandemic, though there's an argument, religious in its intensity, whether it is from the Mishnah or the Talmud. What say you scholars? Does it matter? Is there a similar aphorism in the Quran? Or the Bible? Or the Bill of Rights? Are our foundational origin stories, myths, and beliefs, the beginning of an argument, a lifelong schism, a violent outburst, a war? Or will the better angels of our nature surface in the maelstrom as we pray for peace, or, at the very least, imagine it.


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