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Bombs Away

Daniel Ellsberg © cooyright Michael Gold 1971 for the New York Times, with permission. His son Robert was my editor on "Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories." Robert reports that this is one of the few photos of his father smiling.

Vietnam was a country where America was trying to make people stop being communists by dropping things on them from airplanes.


-Kurt Vonnegut


Sound familiar? Can we transpose this sentence to read: Ukraine is a country where Russia is trying to make people stop being Ukrainian by dropping things on them from airplanes. Except that the Russian military and their mercenaries are using missiles and scorched earth tactics as they did in Chechnya.


War. When will it ever end?


George Kovach (1947-2020) served as a combat infantryman in Vietnam where he was awarded a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars for Valor. Like many soldiers who have experienced brutal combat, and been trained to kill against his nature, he suffered from PTSD. He married, went into real estate, raised children, and found that his debilitating symptoms were eased when he returned to literature, which he had always loved, and when he was writing. After earning his MA and then MFA in Creative Writing at UMass Boston, he launched Consequence Magazine, an award-winning literary journal addressing the culture and consequences of war through poetry, prose and visual art. He eventually returned to Vietnam to meet other writers who had fought in the same war, as enemies. Let us hope that Russian and Ukrainian writers who are fighting today will once again share their work at a PEN America gathering, among many other venues:




I have worked with humanitarian relief workers and combat veterans over the years as a writing mentor and can attest to the healing power of témoignage, as the French call it. It means testimony, or witnessing, and it is powerful.


To contemplate the consequences and impacts of a war in the midst of a war is difficult, if not impossible, especially when one nation—Russia in this case—is  the obvious aggressor. Clarification only arrives after a ceasefire and later when truth and reconciliation commissions have done their work, or the International Criminal Court in The Hague has prosecuted documented atrocities. This process takes decades. In the meantime, the artistic community—journalists , writers, dramatists, visual artists—can  begin to sift the events, and their experiences, as they create work that attempts to explain, and to heal.


Consequence Forum is an online offshoot, or continuation, of Kovach's original literary magazine. I found it by chance as I was trying to place this essay about America's first lockdown drills:




I invite you to browse the Forum's mission statement, offerings, submission requirements and conversation. Their editorial standards are high, they are responsive, they have a small budget, and, most importantly, they are dedicated to working for world peace.


This post is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Ellsberg.

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Inflection Points

The pool is a level playing field.


We have to be able to enlarge the perspective with which we view the world if we hope to become truly empathic.


-Sharon Salzberg



"My name is Carol Ann," she said. How is that possible? I thought. My name is Carol Ann.  How dare she have the very same name as me? I thought, then took a deep breath. She had a gentle voice and demeanor, unlike my bold in-your-face journalist's persona. I was bristling, like fatty spare ribs on a grill. She was crowding me in the locker room, in the same row, a couple of lockers down.  I decided to get my act together and engage what is called in the bias and inclusion world the "extended contact effect."


I had judged this woman from afar for many months, and my judgment had not been kind.  There she is again with her rolling bag and attitude, I thought, whenever I saw her. If we get out of the pool at the same time she'll make a mad dash to the best shower stall. Only three of six have been open since Covid lockdown, an employee shortage like everywhere else; the stalls have to be disinfected daily. And that close-cropped haircut of hairs, how conventional, how provincial. Unlike my pool acquaintances, she wasn't friendly, never greeted anyone, and made a fuss when someone was late exiting their reserved lane. Or had I imagined that, or exaggerated it?


Okay, so here we go, and there she—that horrible selfish woman—goes yet again, I thought, as she rushed to the best shower stall on the day I finally introduced myself, intending to blast her for her selfishness. Why had I hesitated for so many months to make contact? I'm  educated, traveled, and I'd shed my city centric cosmopolitan bias since I'd moved to upstate New York, or thought I had. I could tell her a thing or two without losing my cool, right, or just be friendly?


Nice try.


My doppelganger smiled at me and began to chat. How wrong I had been to blow her off. Not only did we have the same name, we'd been born in nearly the same year. "Of course,"" I said, "that makes sense. Names are generational. Whatever was on TV or in the movies at the time we were born influenced our parents." I didn't go into the long story about my  refugee parents' choice of the most American name they could think of, a name that I have never felt suited me. I wondered how this "other" Carol Ann felt about her name. But that conversation was a long way off. I was still bristling under my politeness. Beyond our name, we don't have much in common, I thought. Wrong again. It turns out that Carol Ann is also a writer, albeit she writes for her church newsletter. Church newsletter. Oh no, I thought. Okay, so concentrate on writing, swimming, this beautiful landscape we both live in.  And don't make any assumptions. Here's a woman who lights up when she talks about writing. Just like me.


Humbled and embarrassed by my biased thinking, I tried to relax. Perceived enemies can be the best teachers of radical empathy.


The rest of the locker-room conversation didn't last long. We packed up our rolling bags—yes I have one, too—and exchanged email addresses before saying good-bye.

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A Student Finds His Muse

© copyright Alex Baer 


Michael Krieg, a former NYU student, wrote me an email this week:


Hi Carol,


Hope all is well.

I'm attaching the article about my Uncle Sidney.

Thank you again for your encouragement as this article began after a free writing exercise from your nonfiction writing 1 workshop back in 2011!


Sending best regards,





2011 is a while ago now and memories of my students and a particular workshop fade unless I continue working with a student privately, or run into them somewhere, and they remind me what year they took my workshop, who else was in the class, and what they were writing about. Once all that information has registered in my full-up brain, I am able to connect the dots. I certainly remembered Michael's name, which is an unusual name, because krieg means war in German and I was studying German at Deutsches Haus at NYU when Michael took my class. And I remembered that Michael worked at NYU, and that he was a photographer. That was a lot to remember about a long-ago student. I hope Michael is pleased, because I was certainly pleased to hear from him.


I taught at NYU from 1997-2020 and at Gotham Writers Workshop before that. I cross paths with a lot of writers from all over the world, and teach workshops upstate now as well. NYU employees and faculty often took my workshops. If memory serves, they got a discount. That said, they participated in the class full throttle;  they were eager, they'd come for a reason.


I was a good student myself and always loved the beginning of the school year. My workshops are always a new beginning for me; I start fresh, I feel renewed. I envy my students the excitement of becoming a writer, and experiencing the world through a writer's eyes perhaps for the first time. I know several much published writers of my generation who have lost this feeling and have decided they have nothing more to say. It makes me sad when they stop writing. Several of these writer friends have been professors like me, but few have taught writing per se. I think that makes a difference. My writing students keep me engaged. They demand that I pay attention to the efflorescing world with all its joys and challenges, including new pronouns and new writers. Being in the presence of struggling writers sustains and inspires my own efforts. I'd be letting myself and my students down if I stopped, so I keep going even when I am not inspired, or weary, or floating in a fallow period as I seem to be this post-Covid Trump indictment summer. Still, whatever else is going on in my personal life, or in my working life with my journalism or indie publishing company, I write in my journal every morning for at least an hour, and I keep up with my blog, or I teach a Haiku class, or volunteer at a library book sale. I stay close to writing, writers and books. Whatever is next in terms of a project will surface in my journal, or in a book or article I am reading, or someone I have met serendipitously, I am sure of it. The ideas stir, the muse resurfaces, and I surrender to it.


I have received several emails like Michael's over the years. They are always a joy to receive and I am grateful for them. And if a former student reconnects to share a publication, I share in their pride and excitement and feel even more gratified. It's clear from Michael's polished essay, "Scribbling in the Margins," published  in Dovetail Literary Magazine that he worked very hard to bring the story about his relationship to his Uncle Sidney to fruition once he'd elaborated the prompt I gave in class. It's the hard work—the  discipline—that matters, even if it takes many years to find the story and work it, like a sculptor works the clay. So, even if Michael had written me to say that he had revised a series of essays, he'd sent them out to publications, and most had been rejected, as a mentor, I'd feel gratified and hopeful that the rejection would not create a cicatrix that could not be healed. Michael Krieg persevered all these years, he developed his craft, and brought a story to fruition and publication. As his mentor, I am chuffed, as the Brits would say.


I often have to remind my students that there are many ways to get published these days, though the frustrations are legion. No writer likes the business of writing; it has nothing to do with the writing  process itself. But we press on, we never stop writing, revising, or submitting our work. Not to mention that we can self-publish books, or publish our own literary magazines, newsletters, or blogs, such as this one.


I  never try to convey a message, I just want to tell a story. Why that story in particular? I have no idea, but I have learned to surrender to the muse.  -Isabel Allende   



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I Live in a Forest

With thanks to ©Ed Koenig for this image of the GW Bridge from Washington Heights. With permission.


If a tree falls in the forest there are other trees listening.


― Peter Wohlleben, "The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate: Discoveries from a Secret World"




I live in Upstate New York surrounded by trees. Most days, even in the heat inversion summer months, the air is clear. Unless there is a wildfire. This week, there are nearly 1,000 US firefighters in Nova Scotia helping the Canadians fight a fire that has devoured more than 8.2 million acres and displaced 18,000 residents.  Last summer, the Canadian firefighters arrived in my hood to help our brave firefighters contain and extinguish a fire on the Minnewaska Ridge. The pall of smoke from that fire lasted a long time and swept into Canada. This morning the sky in New Paltz was so thick with smoke and "particulate" matter, according to the DEC,  that we are either shut inside with air filters running, or masked as we step into our cars to run errands or go to work. Who would have thought that our Covid mask supply would be useful beyond Covid, or that we'd have to reverse the masking protocol from inside out to outside in?


We live in a shared arboreal ecosystem, interrupted by careless, human post-indigenous, industrialized settlement. Satellite imagery tells the story: One World. Our borders are artificial and porous; nation states are only nation states in our political imaginations. And with climate change, migration across these borders will only intensify. Families escaping famine, flood, or the ravages of war. But writing this feels like old news, tired news, news that no one wants to hear as the summer begins and I sure didn't want to write about today. Elizabeth Kolbert's The Sixth Extinction, or the less apocalyptic Peter Wohlleben book quoted above, make disturbing and/or edifying reading, but it's not beach reading. No sooner do we assume we can rest, dear reader, than once again we must face a reality we didn't expect, or have failed to understand.


This morning at the gym, the young student at the front desk was philosophical about climate change, but also determined to participate in its amelioration. She even raised her arm and threw her fist in the air in a demonstrative gesture of defiance. When I asked what—concretely—she  was planning or doing, her answer was simple: "Vote for the right people," she said. "And register my 20-something friends to vote. We cannot retreat from a world on fire."


I'll take that heartening news with me through the remainder of this hazy smoke-filled masked-up day, and keep the windows firmly closed. The forecasters are telling us that the air won't clear for at least another 24 hours.

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Cougars & Perverts

"The Unlikely Couple," Cranach the Elder, circa 1517. Age mismatched couoles became a trope during the Lutheran Reformation. Cranach painted a series, most with older men and younger women in transactional, monetary relationships. Note the woman with her hand on a purse.


…The instantaneous personal magnetism of other people

is almost overwhelming sometimes, whether attractive or repelling…


-Nick Laird, from "Talking to the Sun in Washington Square"



Standing in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, the gatekeeper was friendly, polite and encouraging. The line was long, we'd get there soon, he said. He chit-chatted to everyone, and then gave a woman about to leave a hug. They knew each other, apparently, had worked together  The hug was "appropriate," it was innocent. The line sighed in relief, at least the women in the line did. The woman standing in front of me threw me a conspiratorial look. She'd been living in Barcelona where men and women, gay and trans, flirted with abandon, she told me, No big deal. So what has happened here? Americans are uptight, she said, they are Puritanical, the codes are different, the come-ons regulated by convention and laws. It's not just #metoo which legitimately confronts abuse, assault, and worse. It's something else, something embedded in our culture. Our mating rituals are all askew.


I'm a feminist, long married woman who likes men. I have never minded being hit on and usually have managed a comeback at a workplace encounter that bristled. Mostly, I've been okay. I'm tall and athletic, self-confident in my sexuality, and only once in my life felt fearful of a man when I was nearly accosted on the running track around the reservoir in New York City. I had foolishly decided to take a run off hours when the track was nearly empty. I turned around quickly, out-ran the guy, and shouted like a mad woman to "fuck off." And even that metaphor—mad woman—tells a story of learned, inter-generational, female self-denigration.


Long before #metoo, construction workers in New York City stopped "wolf" whistling at passing women, and men stopped exposing themselves on buses and subways, not that those are comparable; they aren't. I missed the whistles—I guess I was getting older—and thought, why shouldn't older women get a whistle?  But I didn't miss the unzipped pants on the buses and was grateful when the configuration of the seats was changed to open plan.


Fast forward to 2023 and the gatekeeper at the DMV. When I got to the head of the line I asked—jokingly—if  he always gave women on the line a hug? He laughed and explained that he knew the woman. "Well, that was obvious," I said."I heard your conversation." Then the DMV shut down for lunch but not before I was told that my husband had to sign the registration renewal, not me. And why is the car only registered in his name? And why couldn't I change the registration without his permission? Another long story.


"I see you are back," the gatekeeper said. "Did you tell your husband you asked for a hug from a younger guy?"  I laughed. My husband laughed. No big deal. But then the guy said, "Why is that when older women hit on younger men they are called Cougars, and when older men hit on younger women they are called perverts?"


Hmm. How to explain? He thought being called a Cougar was a compliment.

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