Mother at Eighty

For the original, publication, in English and Spanish, see here:

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Fiery World, a guide from grief to finding beauty in the world

It’s been a joy to write a piece tapping into the the guidance and love I have received in my life from friends, families and good doctors — they are out there.

It’s the story of a young girl in grief who haunts her local park and arboretum. It seems to me that all we need to rise out of grief is the natural world — and perhaps some good advice at the right time, words to hold onto as to gold or beauty itself.

Should you need a free copy please contact me Otherwise, it is $3.99 on Amazon Kindle.

May you find something in it that speaks to you or to a child or to someone who has lost a child — or someone who has just lost faith. The link is below:

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Fiery World, love and mourning

I thought a long time about Syringa. That she was the beginning of love and the beginning of mourning both. Wasn’t that what Acheron had said the day we met? That I only mourned Alice because I loved her? That I only despaired over what I cared for? It was like turning a mirror, seeing life that way, seeing that love could not exist without mourning.

The complete Fiery World, on living in the world with and after grief, on the website in June 2022

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Did you know Springsteen sings on Lou Reed’s Street Hassle?

Well hey(man), that’s just a lie, It’s a lie she tells her friends. Cause the real song, the real song she won’t even admit to herself…  It’s a sad song it’s a song lots of people know. It’s a painful song… Want to know the sad truth? Life’s full of sad songs. Tramps like us, we were born to pay.

(In paraphrase)

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Not Selling Out but Cashing In

Advancing in years has been good for me. As if truth has been an amalgamation of experience, and at last I see reality —

Charles McGill, beloved RIP

It doesn’t hurt to be on the non-commercial side of writing, and finally have a commercial work earning the big bucks. Not by attempt but almost almost by accident. Because the work comes first, and financial success is not the business of the true self.

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Eden Sank to Grief

What can I say? Mary died. Happy Mary.

So did Molly.

Molly dressed up in fine clothes and shot herself with a gun she had bought at a local store. It was a curated death — like Kleist’s death with Henriette Vogel on the banks of the Traunsee.

It was staged and meant to be seen. Molly left a note for her young husband — so he could come out and find her — crushed flower at the field’s edge (Catullus)

She was so pretty. Everything about her was pretty. Her long blonde hair, her retro pastel clothes, the cakes she baked in the forms of flowers, terrariums, musical instruments — whatever you wanted.

I used to wonder — is prettiness a cover? Is making things beautiful an attempt to lighten our own souls? Does it help? Is it worth trying?

Once, I told a brother of mine, “I am a good person.”

“Nobody is either good or bad,” this brother said. “We are good sometimes and not good other times.”

This reminded me of Michael Che talking about Black Lives Matter. “We only said we matter,” Che said. “We didn’t say we are awesome.” Something like that.

Recently I wrote to the same brother that I was happy.

Happiness comes and goes every day, he answered.

You try too hard, Paul Dodd once told me. And he might have been right. We none of us have anyone to please, anything to prove, anything to be.

Outside today, mid October, one tree is green as sage. Another is fiery as Mary’s daughter. Mary adopted her daughter from Russia, taking her back to Michigan as a baby. Her daughter now is fourteen and has bright red hair and is an orphan again.

My students are writing about Robert Frost. They are pretty good on Frost but weak on titles. They write titles such as An Analysis, or, A Modern Poet, or Modernism.

These titles will fail to win them the full five points I am allotted to give them for titles.

I suggest to them this way to pick a title:

Go to the poem. Pick a phrase from the poem. Call your essay:

Nothing Gold: on Frost, Nature and Modernism or

Eden Sank to Grief: Robert Frost and the Fallen World or

The Leaves Give Way, Frost as a Modern Poet.

Perhaps the best title my students presented this week came from a young man from Texas named Octavio:

The Hollow Men: Scarecrows, Corpses, and Overwhelming Hopelessness 

At least they know what they’re up against —Beware of darkness cloaked in light —

That’s the Bible —

It’s the light that plays tricks on us, don’t you know? George Michael did. He died also — but we have the music.

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God, violence, trees….

New work:

“I do not love you,” he finally  said, this boy I had met only once, “except because I love you. I go from loving you to not loving you. I hate you no end.” He was quoting Pablo Neruda, though again I did not know this yet.  

I didn’t know what to say and I didn’t say anything for the longest time. I heard him breathing down the phone, then he started to whistle,  as if I wasn’t there at all.  It was a casual melodic whistle, a kind of innocent and bored and unaffected tra-la-la. 

“Well, goodbye,” I said.  

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It does not escape me

that most of what I read now seems empty. Empty by those under the age of forty because they are just kids, empty under the age of fifty because they still don’t know — we know nothing at all until the end, and at that point we know everything. The trees shimmer in the fields, the sky remains blue eyed blue, the ocean waters swell and sigh, saying darling we told you so.

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Happy Birthday Paul

Of course, I don’t know how Paul thinks when he is alone, or even in company. I can only tell how he acts. And how Peggi acts. Which is as if everything is of interest. Which is as if a day at the beach is as good as a day in the rain. Which is as if everything is a gift, but nothing a given. #HappyBirthday

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I Love Louise

The strangest thing about the brain is the way it remembers, or doesn’t. As in this party, in 2004, with my closest friends, Margaret and Kim.

I remember it, surely; it was a great occasion. And yet it seems eons ago. While a love affair I had in high school has burned itself into my brain as clear as yesterday…

It gets more and more difficult, a doctor told me once, for the brain to arrange the accretion of memories as we continue through time.

And for sure it seems that painful memories sometimes pull me closer than those of happiness.

But is not happiness what we will remember in the grave? The way Kim and I, in the year 2000, stood outside our house in Vermont, in a snowy winter, and Kim wrote totally unexpectedly in large loopy letters in the snow, with a stick from a tree, and wanting nothing in return…

I Love Louise

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Everywhere you turn is luck

Good news is when you’ll be teaching American Literature at a university in the fall. Even better is when you can do a section on Louise Gluck: some lines of hers:

I think it would have been better to love no one than to love you

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime…

Extend yourself — it is the Nile, the sun is shining,

everywhere you turn is luck.

FULL POEM The Undertaking

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime.
There you are – cased in clean bark you drift
through weaving rushes, fields flooded with cotton.
You are free. The river films with lilies,
shrubs appear, shoots thicken into palm. And now
all fear gives way: the light
looks after you, you feel the waves’ goodwill
as arms widen over the water; Love

the key is turned. Extend yourself –
it is the Nile, the sun is shining,
everywhere you turn is luck.

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From “Blood Is Blood” 1992, releasing again in 2021

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Prove it to me

Once I had a friend who sat for days on the white stone steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan, finally going in to pray. Her prayer was for Jesus to show her his love — or more precisely, to show her “what this love was that he had.” 

Jesus did, too, because it was as if my friend lived on the other side of a sheet of glass. She was physically strong, yet her face at twenty eight was riven with emotion– and her hands shook so violently it was all one could do not to grip them.

At other times, if one looked down as at a clear pond, one might imagine her floating past, at rest under its surface, like Ophelia with her long maple colored hair.  She had a way of being that I could see, and  feel, but that was out of my reach.

You were mine, but you were God’s more. – Nicholas Samaras

I had a glimpse of her reality one afternoon when we stood in a thunderstorm that spilled sheets of rain onto the summer fields and shot the sky with silver electric light.

To live as she did was to live in a reality exiled from the human — and for a few hours, I lived in it with her. At the same time, I had a recognition that this world of hers, and this world she had accessed, was not yet mine. It was not my time, no matter how I wished it was. I had go back and do my time and my work in the world.

To live is Christ, and to die is to gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you. And being confident of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you.

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A Quiet Loneliness

Guston’s The ROOM

Two of my favorite people in the world revere Philip Guston — and one recently gifted me with a biography of him by Guston’s only child, Musa Mayer. This was a revelation for me, particularly when the Guston description of visual art so closely describes that of written art. Says the daughter, quoting the father

the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act — rather than as a space in which to reproduce, re-design, analyze, or ‘express’ an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event

What an exact description of the best writing: not a description or reproduction or analysis, but an entirely fresh and new event in words.

Let me also say that while my friend artist Paul Dodd gave me this book, Night Studio, my friend Jake in Toronto let on that he once was in the possession of some of Guston’s old tubes of paints. When I inquired about this to Jake, hoping I could maybe procure some of the paint for Paul, Jake said that he, sadly, used up the paint himself (Jake is also a painter.)

And whereas I tend to favor Guston’s earlier abstract painting both Paul and Jake favor his later work: writes Jake Boone:

I love his later paintings partly because he really risked it all, in a way- lots of critics piled on him for leaving abstraction (DeKooning had a nice quote saying something like, “we’re not on all on a team, you know” (how Guston wasn’t betraying the Abstract Expressionists). And in a way Guston went back to where he started, with his work for the WPA. Maybe more than the Klan paintings, I really like the studio paintings- evokes a quiet loneliness working late at night…

No wonder Paul and Jake are my friends: they both think alike, and they both concur that Guston’s late paintings should in no way be held back from the public in 2020 or 2021 due to ‘concern’ over Guston’s expressions about the Klu Klux, Klan — but instead be widely shared for this. Guston was born Goldstein; his family escaped anti-Semitic Europe and his sensibility is that of the persecuted minority. SHAME ON YOU BAD GALLERIES!

THE STUDIO: “GUSTON forces us the stare evil in the face,”
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The Problem with the Problem

I think that growing up my friends and I in NYC were unduly encouraged to look at our problems. Therapy was in vogue and therapy was about analyzing problems and devoting serious study to them. It’s hard to get out of that mindset — to get out of seeing the most important thing in my life at any time as the problem in my life to be mulled over and plumbed and solved.

I think I would like to put the problem on the side and write down my non-problems. With that there seems to be an element of boasting or vainglory — but these days are not the therapists calling that gratitude, as in my gratitude list? I will never write a public gratitude list, I don’t think, when others suffer so.

Instead, let me say that in the past few weeks the November air has been warm with currents or days of cold. We’ve gone to the vineyards to meet friends, and to sit alone with cider and a cheese plate. I discovered the Rose Cider — it’s something out of a fairytale: so crisp and a rose color, and light.

We’ve come home to burn some wood fires before the creek and when the sky has darkened Mars has appeared always, first, and to the right of us. Matthew sent me some Medieval Princess quiz and it seems I am in the ‘house’ of Mars or some-such. This makes sense as Mars is always the planet I see first, whether in the northern hemisphere or the south. Traveling back and forth between hemispheres much of my life has been dizzying, doubling, destabilizing, sometimes a problem (lol). But at the same time it makes me feel a conqueror of blue planet earth, a Medieval Princess who has swung between two poles, a at home in each. After Earth, what comes next? May I feed the rose and not the problem.

Fire at our place, East Port Bay

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Survive for yourself. So comes peace. #30 years ago #Discovered in the drawer

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The German Crowd

Despite having a flawed and sometimes dangerous and volatile personality, I have been rather sickened at the hatred being displayed on social media and elsewhere, particularly by niche groups of the fuming self-righteous. I think we all know by now that any truth can be twisted and any person brought low — or high — and if you can’t rise above slights and injuries or flaws in your friends and fellow creatures– well, I just can’t be here to applaud you or cheer you on.

Here is the beginning of a new work that begins with my time in both a Jewish and an international school in New York, and moves on to some kind of commitment to a kind of “higher calling.” I’ll update this link when it can be properly embedded. I think the webmasters at this new magazine out of SUNY OSWEGO known as SUBNIVEAN are still working on that. Kudos to its editor, a welcome and much talented new voice and arrival to our wilds, Soma Mei Sheng Frazier.

Meanwhile I’ve been back reading Sebald, and a book of essays on Gerard Richter. If these two don’t lift you out of feeling a victim of society in any way, no one will. I quote Richter when asked the purpose of art: “For surviving this world… (art) has the measure of all the unfathomable, senseless things, the incessant ruthlessness of our world. And art shows us how to see things that are constructive and good, and to be an active part of that.”

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New Work 2020: The German Crowd, Oct 27 2020 in Subnivean lit journal

Some kind of Jesus, that’s what I thought of myself — wandering the lake, bathing my feet, loving everyone and wondering when God would come.


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You’re a whore

Some things are so primal. We find ourselves hurling insults that have been used against us. Not that anyone has ever called me a whore. But you get the idea. Today, when every other interaction seems to have the possibility of violence, I strive to distance myself. Because I believe there are bigger fights at hand. Because it is to those that we must pay attention. The universe contains to expand, as does human life. And in the end, expansion reaches completion. Nebulae — did you know, they are made of the debris of dead stars, that then becomes, under gravity, a new star.

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New Work

Mr Leonard and my third stepchild, Riley, on Stradbroke Island 2010

I had what some might call a religious experience at age 23 or so. It was so fantastic and wild and forceful — it ripped the skies open and the skies invited me in.That was at the beginning of the life I chose to lead instead — life of the every man/person, life of the soldier, a life that has veered, as some of you know, from Manhattan to the outback, riches to poverty, dining with the Mafioso and the one-percenter, the Reverend and the murderer. Chaos. Life. Don’t mind the broken bones. Don’t mind the star showers. Once, I stood on the top of a hillside in New Zealand with my cousin Ted. I reached up at dusk as if to touch the bristling orange planet Mars. It was as close to earth that night as it had ever been and I have often thought — after my worlds at various times, fell apart — And if you had not been abandoned, how would you have become yourself?

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If Trump Causes You Pain, see TRUMPain

This is a series created by my brother Jonathan Wareham. Take a look at the preview here: and then the complete playlist. Having trouble embedding it here, but it’s worth the jump
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Acts of Bravery involving the Shooting of Individuals

Steve is a police officer. I watch him calming down some men in a fight in Soho. I am so impressed by this — by his calmness and his presence and quiet authority — I began talking to him. He is forty-two and retiring next year. He has seen gruesome things, he says, mentioning a head in a bucket. Yet somehow he is unjaded. He is light and gentle and almost pure. Last year, he tells me, he “shot an individual in the line of duty.” The individual didn’t die, but Steve is being given a medal for bravery. Do I want to come to the award ceremony, Steve asks? I do. It is near Police Plaza, one Saturday in August. I wear my best clothes. Steve and fifteen thousand other police wear their blue uniforms. Mayor Guiliani is there and applauds all the bravery. We receive pamphlet about bravery and it turns out that all the acts of bravery being honored today involved the shooting of individuals.
— 52 MEN. It’s on Kindle now, read the rest of the story in which he passes me his gun.

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The Wave

Because humans are scant right now, in the rural area where we live, the birds and waterfowl are showing new force. For the first time in years, the geese are coming up from the lake and then the bay and the creek, and settling into the grass with their fluff ball newborns. The trees around, many with leaves still coming in, are wild with birds, all flecks and splashes of color: the robin, the blue jay, the red winged blackbird, a warbler flickering gold.

Then we have the white swan and the blue heron, all coming nearer as it is quiet without the mowing of lawns and gatherings of neighbors. Overhead, usually at dusk, the turkey buzzards swoop closer and closer to us. I really can’t do it justice.

This groundhog keeps coming out to chew on the dandelion — who knew that the groundhog is a vegetarian?

Meanwhile, we bought a pink flower at a local nursery — it was called ‘the wave.’ In just a few days it has become five blooms.

Some lilac shoots arrived in a bag in the mail with a sign that said PLANT IMMEDIATELY.

“Now that lilacs are in bloom
She has a bowl of lilacs in her room 
And twists one in her fingers while she talks. 
“Ah, my friend, you do not know, you do not know 
What life is, you who hold it in your hands”

as I quoted in my high school yearbook — because I knew that while all of life was before me, I could not, for various reasons at the time, be at ease in it. (T.S. Eliot)

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Going Quiet

Summer view from our place

I cannot help but see this virus from mother nature as a wake-up call. Forget your life. Get up. You think you know what time it is? It’s time to pray.

We treat the world so badly. I won’t be sorry to leave the human race. Perhaps the real test is not how we ‘build’ our own lives but how we treat other living things, from people to animals to the smallest birds.

And as for trees —

all those tiny leaves out there — how few us are we, compared to you.

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Well Lived

I caught on fire when I was three. This was half a century ago, yet still you will see the handiwork of this fire when I remove my shirt.

Outside, in the gardens, the trees were ripe with lemons. The beach was cool with water.

Recovery took a season — I simplify.

Next I returned to the world, a square of low wooden benches had been set out for the children. This was behind the Mimosa school, in the thin woods. A kookaburra was singing.

I broke my first limb at a glacier – I was skating. Later came the wrist, the scapula, the forearm, the scaphoid and then the wrist again.

I cannot help but think that every injury and slight and pain, is what gives us value, that life well lived is an accumulation of such.

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Setting fire to it

SO much has been going on, but when hasn’t it been? I swear, since the year 2000/2001 I have felt like a fugitive with a great wind at my back. Which isn’t so bad, as I always feel ALIVE, but lately I’ve been thinking of scaling back, of keeping my energy to myself. Imagine, how much I could do — how much we could all do — keeping one’s energy to oneself? If we don’t dissipate it, but focus it, it can be as sunlight through a glass to paper — setting the world on fire. Good news: I have been as the sunlight lately. Bad news, it took some wasted time getting to this. But such, in my humble experience, is always the way.

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Seek Neither To Run Nor To Recriminate — that is for other people

I think one of the best recommendations I have ever read is from an old and dear book of my youth that attempts to keep readers out of trouble. This recommendation, that lives in me always is, “Seek neither to run nor to recriminate.” In this, I feel, one does the least harm. And even if one has been harmed oneself, or harmed another and made amends — or not depending on if the other party has cut you dead — one does not continue the harm, but lets it go.

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Go Under

When I was in the hospital for depression in my early twenties I imagined that my depression would make me wise. Yet really, depression was like a great beast that stood in my way and prevented me from moving. I was utterly self focused; my pain had taken over the world. When I now read letters I wrote during those days, they read like the letters of a child, or the concussed.

Of course, in hospital — eventually — in the company of the grieving and a group of adults who have all made attempts on their lives — one still learns some lessons. But those lessons come slowly — we learn them obliquely, but surely.

At work the other day I found myself giving advice to a co-worker who wanted to quit after being overlooked for a promotion. But all she needed, I was sure, was six more months, and patience with herself. I found myself telling her to give herself time, to stop fighting.  This obstacle is like a wave, I told her. Don’t go up against the wave. Go under it.

She hasn’t quit yet. I hope it’s a good sign… And here, below Al Franken (Stuart Smalley) giving advice to Michael Jordan.

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Don’t Play Cards with Satan…

He’ll deal you an awful hand.

That’s a song by Daniel Johnston that I love; you can hear — no, scrap that, you can experience it here. Also, I heard on Christian Radio today (I live in a Christian area), that one must never argue with the Devil because the Devil will always win.

This is an experience I have found to be true. I used to worry that knowing , in advance, that another person would outmaneuver me, meant that said person was stronger or mentally quicker than I, but really, it just meant that they were crueler.

Half of life is knowing when to walk away. There is dignity in walking, and humility and peace. Know when to cut and run, friends. The life you save, as they say, may be your own.

I heard the voice of Satan crying in the woods…  

Did I ever stop and tell you I am a desperate man… a desperate man..

Daniel J
Daniel when young
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TED in Gargoyle 69

An audio reading, by me, of my short story Ted is out this summer in a new issue of Richard Peabody’s lit anthology Gargoyle 69.

Ted is the story of loving someone you are not meant to love and how that love will fail — yet there is no real failure in love, is there? Because you always have those first feelings, that attempt, that empathy, and knowledge that you once, at least, and hopefully many times thereafter, lived well enough to throw logic, caution and other people’s judgments to the wind. (Living, it should be called). This is available on a CD here. The beginning lines, I post below:

We drive north, past nursing homes and hospitals, through tunnels in a hillside, alongside the wall of a town, yards full of bikes and clotheslines that spin in circles. He has a place to show me: the air leaden with bottle bushes, pines straight as toothpicks. It is a swimming pool, not tepid, but warm: the way a body is.  We swim naked and alone, the alone is what we like.

Gargoyle 69
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Going Backwards

is always useful, in term of relationships, because — so it seems to me — whenever one goes back to the past in hope of creating a new or different future, one finds that there is no new future, that there is only a repetition of the past, that caused one so much pain, friends, for a reason, not a mis-step or mistake or misjudgment. But a reason. One need only to accept and inhabit the reason. This is the only way forward. And if you think there is no reason, you must do nothing but wait — for it will come. As Denis Johnson told me at a reading the year he died, “Give it Time.”

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Supporting girls

Time to Ask

Friends, please support Season 2 of my podcast. A percentage goes to the Silver Hill Foundation for their work with girls (including me, once) who have been sexually abused as children. We also support PAVE, and all girls and Women Telling Stories about Men

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Linda Gregg, who knew how to live

Linda Gregg, the poet, died a few days ago. I met her once at an arts colony where I was working. Instead of having her sit inside and read pages, I took her on a walk. We went up the hill and into the woods where we got lost. We sat in a ravine, with broken black trees and white water flowing, and we each had a cigarette. Or maybe we shared one. People still sneaked cigarettes back then. She told me how she loved a man — not Jack Gilbert anymore. Jack Gilbert was in her youth, when they lived, famously, on a Greek island. This other man was also a poet, but married to another. I too had had a great love, who had been married to another. We compared notes. She told me that no one had ever loved her the way this man had loved her, that she had been astonished at how he much he loved her, and the words he had said to her. Words she couldn’t get over. Or chose not to get over, there in the ravine in Vermont with her long famous ginger-red hair and her beauty and her seriousness. Linda was a woman, I thought, who knew how to live. She had given herself to words and to beauty. She was a also a horse rider, I believe, in California where she grew up. She is the kind of person you picture as always on that horse. She led a life few dare to these days. A life of devotion. R.I.P Linda Gregg (September 9, 1942 – March 19, 2019

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Athens in April

“The Shipping Tycoon,” a story from 52 Men about my excursions with the late yachting magnate risen from donut shops in Greece, will appear in an exhibit by Creative Process at the Byzantine Museum in Athens, beginning in April 2019.

Here is Andreas below, on his yacht The Rosenkavelier.

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An Interview with the Creative Process

Long before the Me Too movement, you’ve been writing books and coming of age stories [Since You Ask, Miss Me a Lot of] about survivors of assault, abuses of power.

The Creative Process Exhibition was launched at the Sorbonne and is traveling to forty leading universities around the world. The exhibition consists of interviews with over 100 esteemed writers. For info and photos of the project, go here.

Click to my interview, which includes The Boxer and The Shipping Tycoon, 

… as well as some questions such as Why did you become a writer? Who were your formative influences and  what advice did they give you?

I took to heart the advice of my father and of poet Kenneth Koch who I studied with for at Columbia College in New York: don’t try to write like someone else; write as yourself. It sounds easy, yet it is what all writers strive for.

And what are your views on social media?

Beware as one would beware a proliferation of Sirens on the beach.

Artist Mia Funk is the master behind it, adding her sumptuous often blue painting and designs to the work. Mia told a fantastic story on 52 Men the Podcast, told from the point of view of a woman in a 500 year old painting. To listen, please go here. 



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Charles McGill

Charles arms outstretchedThe wilderness, we all pass through it. I saw it in Charles’ eyes just last week. May we realize that the extremes we go through are the test of our lives, and that in the most painful we discover who we are.

For me, I walked out of the Australian desert outback, alone in 2012, after eight years out of the U.S.A. I got on a plane and at the other end met up again, in a town I was moving to sight unseen, my beloved old friend Charles, who had moved there himself one week earlier: Peekskill, New York, an hour north of New York City.

From dark to light to dark to light.

In the piece on the outback in Tin House, that I posted last week, I describe the Coalsack Nebulae — a black space in the sky that is a recycler of stars. Also, again, what I discovered and love the most — that while white people pick their constellations from stars, aborigines see them in the patterns in the darkness. Charles I hope for sure that you are being recycled right now, dust into life as dead star into new star in the star recycler you reach. 

Charles was a man who never complained, in the 25 years I knew him, about his luck or his odds, or of being held back by any part of who he was. I so admire that. He would laugh at me, but I told his Dad that on his death bed our beloved Charles looked like black Jesus.

Everyone is going to miss him for the rest of our lives, as Jay D (I guess I should say Daugherty) said at his service on July 22. A terrible loss. A brilliant artist, a gentle strong man, and a soul mate. Tears are flowing and they ain’t going to stop soon.  Beautiful char;es

Charles Militant Golf (2)Charles arms outstretched

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My Tin House piece on E.L. Grant Watson, living in the outback.

Lost & Found: Louise Wareham Leonard on E. L. Grant Watson

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Pictures of Lolita, Gaitskill and me

What do you think of when you think of Lolita? The answer is not always your fault. Publishers want to sell copies and sex sells, or can.  But Lolita, Lolita. I have been reading Mary Gaitskill’s essays, and in her essay “Pictures of Lo,” she puts it perfectly:

Lolita may be fairly described as a ‘threnody’ for the destruction of a child’s life….

lolita-cover-2-e1362033220249yet a high percentage of the covers go for cute. 

In my adolescence, it was Lolita  in heart shape sunglasses, sucking a lollipop. And there have been some 150 other versions.

Lolita is the story of a young girl at the mercy of a step-father who responds to her nascent sexuality by targeting her, kidnapping her and sleeping with her as his captive step-daughter in one place after another until outsiders suspect. Her sobbing, which he sometimes hears at night, he duly, perhaps guiltily, hears but ignores.

When she finally escapes, she becomes — as many abused children do —  a denuded lessened figure, a shadow of what she might have been.

Mary Gaitskill’s collection of essay and reviews, Somebody with a Little Hammer,  is so forthright and perceptive and strong; Gaitskill sees through all of the nonsense and depravity of the convenient and willful transformation of victim to seductress. And I believe I know a thing about this, having had my last little work, 52 Men, treated as if my character were a happy go lucky nymphomaniac  (sorry, but no.)  I quote Gaitskill here, writing of Linda Lovelace, in Gaitskill’s essay “Icon:”

You don’t need special shrewdness or even much experience to recognize a predator; all you need is a working animal instinct.

But some people’s instincts have been ruined. Some people’s instinct have been so ruined by such disrespectful treatment that, for them, disrespect is not merely a norm; it has a kind of hyper-reality that is absolutely compelling. Such people don’t necessarily identify as masochistic in a conscious way… It’s hard to know them — that is, to know how hurt they are, and how intractable the damage is.Hammer

I do not know what happened to Gaitskill that she understands this. It is, perhaps, a good thing that I don’t, so it be not too reductive. But the point is, that somehow she does, and I totally relate to her.

In another essay in the collection a young person asks her in real time her why she loves him. She says:

This is why —

You’re not somebody who just wants to hear nice bullshit.

You care. You want to know what’s real.

I love you for that.

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Adolescence is enough suffering for anyone: a story

Amy Hassinger tells the story of an aching painful adolescent love, when a boy’s desperate need and intensity compel, confuse and repel a young girl all at the same time.

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Hightailing it through another faceless desert….


In an excerpt from her novel-in-progress After Venice, writer ANDREA R. VAUCHER tells the story of a woman whose Maserati breaks down out of L.A. in the desert. Then arrives, to rescue her, an all American male with the perfect body, a smile to kill and a whole lot of secrets… just like her…

LA-based award-winning journalist (media, travel, style, the arts and spirituality) published widely including NYTimes, LATimes, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Tricycle, Huffington Post. She is also Author of “Muses From Chaos and Ash: AIDS, Artists and Art” (Grove Press, 1993) — an oral history of the artists on the frontline of the AIDS crisis and the first book to explore the effect of the AIDS epidemic on the international art community.

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Just because someone abuses you, doesn’t give you the right to…

Popping up a recent interview by Siel Ju. She is gorgeous and super smart and from L.A. She was on the podcast reading her awesome piece Acceptance. Here, in her interview is a little about about the outback, about how 52 classifies as fiction, and about my belief that, yes Just Because Someone Abuses You Doesn’t Give You the Right to Destroy Them.

Five firsts: Louise Wareham Leonard on secrets and thinly-veiled memoirs

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Refusing to Give Way, leading a date to get awry


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I want to make you bleed for not saying goodbye: EPISODE 20! Women’s Day

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Life is a Chemical Madness, me and Ron Shapiro

Ron ShapiroHere is my old friend Ron Shapiro. I was driving through the deep south, age 22, in a Drive-Away car (you pay for the gas and get to drive the car to a destination) when I landed in Oxford Mississippi to check out Faulkner’s home. After that, I stumbled into Oxford’s Hoka Cafe, owned by Ron, and the dear fellow must have recognized, after numerous cups of coffee and a slice of his cheesecake, that I was sleeping in said Drive- Away car, as he gave me his couch to sleep on that night.

I ended up living in Oxford for a year, working at the ER,  then Square Books. Ron, who later became Oxford Mayor, hooked me up with all kinds: Faulkner’s niece, Faulkner’s chiropractor, all the writers in town — Willie Morris, who drove me all around the delta, Barry Hannah who proposed that I marry a then briefly single Willie. Some of this is in 52 Men. 

What is not, is that those were lucky days for me, an oasis in the madness of my chemical youth.  That’s what Fitzgerald calls it in the story I talked of yesterday, “A Diamond as Big as the Ritz.”

Everybody’s youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.

Though if you want know the damn truth, in my case I would make that life. As in: my entire life has been a dream, a form of chemical madness.  Sounds right to me.

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The Gaudy Valley, a story from my brush with gangsters

The-Diamond-as-Big-as-the-Ritz-320x448Any day is a good day to re-read The Diamond As Big as the Ritz. And today, after four days fighting a vicious cough that I thought was going to choke the life out of me, seemed a perfect one. Mild skies, happy life, good work flow, happiness. And this book!.

First, I love how it portrays what might as well be today’s one percenters. Here is a description of the blithe children of the richest man in the world:

“A chaste and consistent selfishness ran like a pattern through their every idea.”

Doesn’t that just sound like some people you have read about on the news lately? Oh yes, it does. Face it. Read it again. A chaste and consistent selfishness ran like a pattern through their every idea.  Fantastic.

Then, there is the delicious pure language, like water falling in the sun. Fitzgerald was just so good when he was good, and he was usually good:

The Montana sunset lay between two mountains like a gigantic bruise from which dark arteries spread themselves over a poisoned sky.

It sounds overdone, but in context it is just beautiful.   AND I think I might have found in these short pages a title for short story: “The Gaudy Valley.” Oh, yes.

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Big Truck, a little study of power. With Aurelie Sheehan

On the podcast, a woman learns the joy of power by riding in her man’s Big Truck. Can she ever go back? And what is the cost? And how does she suddenly feel about the little car drivers?? Give Me the Truck or Give Me Nothing….  by Aurelie Sheehan


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I Love You, Please Keep Quiet

A woman confronts her childhood abuser, with the loving support of her attentive protective husband. Yet over time as that woman speaks about her abuse, and writes about it, that husband becomes increasingly uncomfortable. What to do when support isn’t quite support.  Stay silent out of love for the other? Or go and tell one’s story?  A fresh take on the outcome of trusting our loved ones with our truths.

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On Joseph Brodsky and suffering through, by Melissa Green

Some days it seems that we have seldom lived in darker times. But writers such as Melissa Green, now living in Boston, are here to remind us about history, dark history — and that if others can survive and resist it, maybe we can, too.

Here is Melissa, a revered poet and memoirist, on her friendship with Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky. Brodsky was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972 after much persecution. He had been  condemned to a Soviet mental institution and spent five years in an Arctic labor camp before and gaining asylum in the United States. Here, at the Dia Foundation in New York City, Melissa Green connects both to him and to history and an entire line of Russian poets who persevered through unthinkable suffering due to the regimes they lived under.


Melissa  is the author of three books of poetry, The Squanicook Eclogues, Fifty-Two and Magpiety: New and Selected Poems; and two memoirs, Color Is the Suffering of Light and The Linen Way. Soundings, a book of twenty-two essays about her work by prominent American poets, edited by Sumita Chakraborty and published by Arrowsmith Press, was released in December 2016. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

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Trump Threatens to Sue My Ass, Part 2

Here again, because it’s, er, timely, is my post on Trump threatening to tear me to bits when I was 20.

I thought I should repost:
Trump 86

It was on the phone. I was twenty and an intern reporter at TIME.  Trump was being sued by a hotel chain.  I had to call Trump, and ask him about it, and straight away he started calling me  “Babe.” It was “Babe” this and  “Babe” that.  His voice was gold — a veritable sunbath– (or was it a golden shower? let’s add that January 2017).

At any rate, he spoke to me, a 20 year old reporter and he a far older ‘businessman’  as if he and I were oh so close, even intimate.  Such is the method of charming insolent un-serious men.

Then I read aloud to him, still on the phone, as a TIME reporter in New York, one of the allegations against him, which I had before me in print in the Affadavit.

You should have felt it. The change in atmosphere — even on the phone — when a man such as he drops his charm.

“You Print That,” Trump told me, “and I’ll Sue You.”

He’d sue me —  a 20 year old intern, a Columbia student, an almost girl reading from a legal affadavit that did not please him, did not match his idea of himself….

I wish I could say it was the last time I heard a man turn on a dime, see the flash of virulence beneath the charm. I wish I had learned my lesson, right then.

These men — these charming powerful men of a certain kind – how many times must they reveal themselves before we finally dump them?  Keep Trying, I say. Keep trying until it takes.


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To Stay or to Go? Siel Ju Contemplates

I had a boyfriend like this once. We almost married, but he always countered his loving remarks with not so loving ones. For example, he told me once, repeatedly, that he wished I would die. Which I just could not get over.  A brother of mine remarked that people say things they don’t mean when they are angry. But I guess what’s important is whether or not the person later regrets saying those negative things — or doing certain things — and says they are are sorry.  My bf was not sorry about the things that bothered me,  and told me so. I regretted leaving him. It was one of the most painful things I have had to do. But I didn’t feel I had a choice.

At any rate, in the latest podcast, writer Siel Ju addresses this in a slightly more subtle way, a way that I think most of us must have have experienced in our lifetimes. In her case, she says, her lover seems to be two different people – so she struggles with knowing  which is the real person, and whether she should stay or go?

Here it is: “Acceptance,” with a little advice from me on how to tell whether someone is a “keeper” or not…

Siel is also the author of Cake Time, a novel in stories that will be out from Red Hen Press in April 2017, and two poetry chapbooks. Her stories and poems appear in ZYZZYVA, The Missouri Review (Poem of the Week), The Los Angeles Review, Denver Quarterly, and other places. She gives away a book every month at

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Here was this chance to break through that coldness and do something decent

Episode 13 of 52 Men the Podcast.

“The Difficulty of Being Good” is a story about the desire and need to help other people — in this case, two separate strangers, both met on the street at different times, and both men. Do we help them selflessly, or to help ourselves? And how do they feel about it? Author Eliza Factor is the founder of Extreme Kids & Crew, a playspace for children with disabilities in Brooklyn. She has published two novels Love Maps and The Mercury Fountain with Akashic Books.

(Akashic, full disclosure) also published my (as Louise Wareham) 2004 Since You Ask, the James Jones Award winning novel about a girl working with her doctor to recover from sexual abuse.

Eliza’s memoir, Strange Beauty, about life with her son, will be published by Parallax Press in the fall of 2017. See her website for more: Author photo by Micaela Walker

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How to Conform – Growing up with the (NZ) Patriarchy

The newest podcast is close to my heart, coming from a young New Zealand woman — well, 36 — who describes being pushed into playing sports by her teacher and boys. Such a delicious simple explication of the way authority works on our guilt, shame and desire to please despite our wishes to do our own thing.

Interesting in terms of the New Zealand Patriarchy, under which I myself grew up — even though I left New Zealand at age six, my parents were extremely patriarchal in their attitudes and lessons.  And also interesting, as I mention above, in terms of school and society conformism.

Will never forget leaving my laced up Australian public school — with uniforms, prefects, assembly, and caning for boys for my raucous new Manhattan private school where kids wore what they wanted, called their teachers by their first names and — often — shockingly to  me, swore at their elders…. No wonder my New York teachers said my brothers and I were a “quiet joy” to have in class — not that that lasted forever….

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Triptych Tales … young women on men

Three new podcasts up on 52 Men the Podcast in the past 24 hours; all young women with wild and differing voices:

Rebecca Baumann reads her startling story on the male gaze, expectancy and giving with “The Chocolate Box.” A Southern California native, Rebecca is the Managing Editor of the Los Angeles Review and Publicist at Red Hen Press.podcast-photo-1

Lisa Locascio reads “The Pearl Sings To The Oyster Knife,” from her chapbook-in-progress Transmigration Spellwork. Lisa is Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Wesleyan University, co-publisher of Joyland Magazine, and editor at 7×7, a magazine of ekphrastic collaboration between artist and writers. Her novel, Jutland Gothic, will be published by Grove Atlantic in 2018.lisa_locascio_portraitbyfrancesfdenny_-4

And Megan Giddings reads “Three Boyfriends” originally published in “Passages North” is a graduate of Indiana University’s MFA program and the co-Fiction Editor of The Offing. Her chapbooks, Arcade Seventeen (TAR) and The Most Dangerous Game (The Lettered Streets Press) were published in December 2016. She has short stories forthcoming or that have been recently published in Arts & Letters, Best Small Fictions 2016, Black Warrior Review, and Pleiades. Special thanks to Darcy Cosper who introduced me to her through her awesome work at The Offing. megancontributorphoto-2-4-1

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Silence in the Museum now up on Soundcloud


Silence in the Museum: a brilliant tale told from the point of view of a woman in a painting. Mia Funk is a world renowned painter whose work you will probably recognize. See her website

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52 Men the Podcast: Women Telling Stories about Men

Today the podcast went live with three episodes by three awesome women writers: Amalia Negreponti, Lynne Tillman and Caroline Leavitt.


Amalia Negreponti


Lynne Tillman. Photo by Craig Mod


Caroline Leavitt















FYI, In case you were wondering, this podcast has no bias or agenda; it is simply a platform for women to share stories about men who have had an impact on their lives. The stories can also be fiction — mixed genre is absolutely welcome.

Please visit SoundCloud here for the first episodes. And if you are inspired to, please write for writers guidelines to

And for some words on the concept — here, from Binnie Klein:

Think of your life – peopled with your objects and subjects of desire/love/lust/curiosity. Give each on eat least a paragraph. Distill the essence with details and/or impressions. What did each one teach you? How did each one (in some cases) harm you? What were you searching for on that sea of beds? What Leonard understands. is how we remember these often brief encounters – as a phrase, a scent, an embarrassment, a surprise….  –

And from Amanda Fortini in the LARB:

 52 Men suggests that our identity is at least in part a product of our romantic past, and that the particulars we choose to depict that past are significant, comprising a kind of personal psychobiography…

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52 Men the Podcast…

So here it comes, 52 Men The Podcast: Very Excited.

We launch, with Red Hen Pres,s late in October. Each podcast is  10 minutes.

The lineup so far:

Lynne Tillman (Weird Fucks) read by Louise Wareham Leonard

All others so far read by the individual authors:


Elissa Schappell (Vanity Fair/ Tin House/novelist)

Binnie Klein, (A Miniature World radio feature/writer)

Elissa Basisst (Rumpus’ Funny Women)

Julia Slavin, and more..

To begin, please submit up to 800 words max — nonfiction, fiction or any variation thereof on a woman’s experience of a man or men, currently to


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A little verbal abuse for you

Thought I’d share a little message I received yesterday, by a woman who didn’t like what I had to say about self-publishing.  Her name is Diana Kirk.  I think she speaks for herself.

You’re a predatory twat that needs some serious therapy.

I was kind of upset, but then today she posted this on her page so I am not so worried.

I have many opinions. Opinionated women tend to be cunts, bitches and whores. It’s just our playground. And I’m good with it. Whore it up why don’t you?

Arg, my God!

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Escape from X-Ville, gross, dirty and mean

life04-082715A dead mother, a seriously disturbed drunkard father, a job at a boy’s prison, unattractive clothing, bad looks, this book was so miserable I almost ditched it. And yay! Thank God I didn’t, because it suddenly became not weirdly grossly original, but an excellent twisted thriller Eileen — Eileen Eileen Eileen — it makes me think of my favorite song Jolene (Jack White/White Stripes version) please don’t take him just because you can.

Eileen’s girl crush on Rebecca, her run for a new life…

You can think what you want, that I was vicious and conniving, that I was selfish, delusional, so twisted and paranoid that only death and destruction would satisfy me, make me happy. You can say I had a criminal mind, I was pleased only by the suffering of others, what have you. In a moment’s time I figured out how to solve everyone’s problems…

And she does. Movie coming, also. Author Ottessa Moshfegh (from Boston) got out of poverty with this book and hit the big time.  Good news for all of us.

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A love postcard…… or Man of the Week

Offering two perks this season, royalty season — or not as it could be. In an effort to increase my numbers I am offering these special rewards!

Buy just one copy of 5scanbyronbed2 Men – paperback or ebook (only $9.99) here and I will personally write and post you one beautiful unique vintage love postcard such as this 30 year old postcard of Lord Byron’s Bedroom, left.

Or, for 2 or more copies think about being a 52 Men MAN OF THE WEEK.

For the How To Instructions on that, please email me at I will need a photograph of you and a brief interview so I can post something special.


Also, if you missed the serious study of 52 Men, Susan Minot, Didion and Gaitskill in the LARB it is here:  Why Can’t You Be Sweet? 

52 Men suggests that our identity is at least in part a product of our romantic past, and that the particulars we choose to depict that past are significant, comprising a kind of personal psychobiography.”

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Jesus on a Bender with the Devil

What more could you want of a writer — dead or alive — who admits that his motivation for writing is to “shine my ass.”  download

In an interview he once stated that his motivation in writing fiction, “if there is any discernible, is probably ego and fear of mathematics, with overtones of money. Primarily I have a simple desire to shine my ass — to show off a bit in print.”

From New Orleans, Denver and Mississippi, Elliot Chaze, a newspaper man, also wrote fiction for The New Yorker, and this beautifully written pot-boiler My Angel Has Black Wings.

All the King’s Men with better faster, tougher and more elegant prose. Does anyone write this way today?  Jesus on a bender with the devil maybe.

9781590179161_custom-814cefa10a105457f4aeb3600c05ae378ec5d18f-s400-c85I said I’d kill her, but it lacked conviction, with the soft nauseau of the past two greasy high-on-the-hog months behind me. We were no more the same two people who slept in the rocks and counted our dreams than we were guppies. I loved her and was jealous of her and yet I was sick and ashamed of her, and knew she must be of me. I blamed the armored car money for her cheating on me and for my own cheating and for two months of insane buying and laughing. Heavenly God. I was running from my own name. I was too stinking rich and bloody and scared to listen to my real name. Love or no love I wanted to be rid of Virginia now…

Thanks as always to the New York Review Classics, who reprinted it.

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Into Your Ornamental Garden

PONDPOND: one of the rare books I’ve shelled out for based on page 1. I would have to say though that page 1 is one of the finest in it, and whereas the whole little book is gorgeous, it is also at times so insular I felt like the Prince in Coover’s Briar Rose whacking through perpetual thickets in search of a Sleeping Beauty who may or may not wake to my touch.

In other words, it is language the drives it, and oddness and brilliance, and these things, in any one writer, are so individual they either thrill you or they don’t. In my case they thrill me. I like, too, what Meghan O’Rourke, the poet and memoir-ist wrote of Pond in the New York Times:

More than anything this book ­reminded me of the kind of old-fashioned British children’s books I read growing up — books steeped in contrarianism and magic, delicious scones and inviting ponds, otherworldly yet bracingly real. Somehow, Bennett has written a fantasy novel for grown-ups that is a kind of extended case for living an existence that threatens to slip out of time. Such a life, Bennett suggests, is more actual than list-laden, ego-driven, “successful” adulthoods.

Claire-Louise-Conor-Horgan1-e1443438634491-215x225And now for that page 1: “First of all, it seemed to us that you were very handsome. And the principal windows of your house were perfectly positioned to display a blazing reflection at sunset. One evening while walking back from the fields this effect was so dramatic we thought your rooms were burning. We liked nothing better than to rake the tinkling gravel on your drive then to climb an impeccable tree along its passage and wait. We could hear the engine loud in the valley, followed by a thrilling silence within which we would wave our boots and imagine the leather grip of your hands upon the steering wheel, left and right. Oh, but we were only little girls, little girls, there on the cusp of female individuation, not little girls for long. The other two hung back by the brook with cups on sticks while I made my way over the wall into your ornamental garden, lay down upon the unfeasible grass and fell to sleep wrapped about a lilac seashell, which was of course my most cherished possession.” Dazzling.   – Claire-Louise Bennett

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Home, You Had Your Time There

So home, a big word.  I loved Visitation, a 1967 born writer’s take on the private lives of Germans from Weimar to the fall of the Wall. So much lost, represented often by the small things: the objects left behind, or buried for safekeeping, or bought at auction disregarding provenance.

The key, the cutlery, the furniture. The house itself as object. The land on which the house sits as object — stolen, claimed, busticated.

In Visitation, as Germans flee their homes in the face of death, often multiple times, they take with them less and less. Writes Jenny Erpenbeck:

“with each step you take while fleeing, your baggage grows less, with more and more left behind, and sooner or later you just stop and sit there, and then all that is left of life is life itself, and everything else is lying in all the ditches besides all the roads in a land as enormous as the air, and surely here as well you can find these dandelions, these larks.”

It is the same in an NYRB Classic I read last month, the gorgeous almost fairytale of a book More Was Lost, in which 19-year-old American Eleanor Pereyni marries a Cezch Count, and runs his estate with him until the Germans and then Soviets usurp it.  In that case, object, house and land become a world lost.

A world such as the world of love, or one’s family, or of childhood. More on childhood another time.  Meanwhile, for all of us, if we move house ever in life, or must let go of past lives, I liked very much what a husband, in prison, says to his wife grieving the loss of their house/home/world/land:

“What is it you want? You had your time there.”

And this:

Home had become transformed into a time that now lay behind.



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Minor Key, Me and Kenneth Koch








In my twenties, for a few years, I threw myself into poetry. I had never thought of myself as a poet but my teacher of “Imaginative Writing” at Columbia College was the poet Kenneth Koch, (left, above with Allen Ginsberg) and it seemed with him that nothing but poetry was worth writing.

He gave me a lot, as teacher, friend, tormentor. We went out for salted chicken in Chinatown once, and when he drove me home he thought my street so busy he pronounced that I lived in “A pinball machine.” Which feels more and more true now that I look back.

He had a firm belief in me that I was always capable of more. That more to him was more range. He wanted me not to write of despair or sadness.  Or, he said, grudgingly, cajoling, realizing my penchant: if you have to do that, do the opposite also.

For him, poetry was about celebration. But perhaps that’s why I left poetry, the way I left guitar: all of my poems and songs seemed to be in minor key, and so sad.

Just looking through some papers today and found this fragment:


 Ah, so

over you, I don’t even think of you

there are other beds, other openings of the blinds

at 7 a.m., crow in the garden,

hands both gentle and rough, years pass, this way,

not a tear comes.

Do you catch my drift?  Still, I would like to live up to Koch’s faith in me; no one tone is the only tone, I do believe, for any writer, or at least not one key.  I want always to sound like myself, of course, but not always to sound the same.  A lot to live up to, Kenneth:




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Thank God it’s Over –

I’ve been having awesome nightmares recently. Awesome because, upon awakening, the words flashing before me have been Lesson Learned.

As a nostalgic sort, I have been known to wallow in thoughts of past good times. Unfortunately, such wallowing has led to hankering for the past, regretting the loss of it, even, at times, cursing myself for having ruined it or somehow messed it up  — a horrible condition in which to live, and not just for myself.

But in these dreams, lately, the miraculous has happened: I have been reunited with people from the past, those people I’ve been fretting about, regretting and worrying over. And each time, in these reunions, the person has acted — watch this —  exactly the way they did before — at some point in my relationship with them  — namely I guess, the point at which I chose to leave them.

So the lesson has been that they are just the same as they ever were, that all the good I remember may indeed still be there but so is the bad.  So you know, the brain has run the relationship loop for me, and I have woken up thinking, hey, well, thank God that’s over.

This morning’s dream involved a boat, a faulty turnaround, many warnings and a person who, to quote Bowie, went “off his head and hit some tiny children.”

Lesson learned in this one:  I am not the only one at risk.




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O yes, Loneliness —

otago612164So, I have written on loneliness before, on this blog, and will likely do so again.

Yet I may point out here that of these 52 stories in 52 Men, based in life, all 52 transpired before I turned aged 40, and loneliness no longer plagues me.

“Everlasting hurt” — to quote Michelle Elvy on the book, yes, that plagues me.

But who doesn’t have everlasting hurt, over something?


“There is everlasting hurt in these pages, but also a kind of bold acknowledgement of the hurt.

The whole book can be seen as an answer to the question of loneliness…..”

Full review on the link below:

The Question of Loneliness

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Not a Whole Lot of Love

whole lot of love

I am pleased to report that a reviewer found the 52 incredibly sad.

I wanted to write a book that was pure and simple, cause and effect.

There were other ways to tell this story, happier, more popular ways. But I am not  trying to conform to a redemption narrative — at this time.

I am trying, with all of my force and self-absorption and worth, to tell what happens to me and to girls and boys everywhere, when someone in their childhood is allowed to crush their spirit through both abuse and sexual abuse.  Cause — effect.  Cause — effect.  Cause: the abusive other unchecked by family or family friends.  Effect: chaos and lot of pain for everyone.

It made me sad, too.

That’s the book I wanted to write.  Thanks to reviewer Kirsten McDougall and and editor Louise O’Brien at “New Zealand Books.”  Here is the opening:

I felt deeply sad upon finishing Louise Wareham Leonard’s new book, 52 Men. Its constituent 52 parts tells a story that fits right into our Tinder-times, even though Leonard is reporting back from the age before apps supported hook-ups. Dating can be a perilous business for the mind, heart and body, and it was both fascinating and sobering to read through the 52 encounters. But this book is more than just about dating 52 men; it is a book about the power dynamics that exist in our society between a rich man and a comparatively less wealthy woman; a famous man and and a non-famous woman; a girl and an older man. The complex layers of sexual desire, emotional torment, fun and recklessness are all in here; but there is not much love to be found. The final story explains why that might be so. And this left me sad.

Here is the entire review:

Looking for Love, NZ Books Winter 2016

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Things Outlast Us


I hadn’t really appreciated how objects tell stories until Sebald. He was always coming into landscapes and seeing odd little objects left behind, and to him they were like ghosts.

“Things outlast us,” he wrote.

“They know more about us than we know about them; they carry the experiences they have had with us inside them…”

The objects in The Object Parade, by L.A. based actress and writer Dinah Lenney, aren’t so much ghosts, but alive. When she looks at them, they tell her stories, carry her memories. They are like those delicious tiny objects in a dollhouse: they speak.

Some of her objects are “big ticket” and have the weight of symbols  – an inherited Steinway piano that Lenney wants her daughter to play,  a movie star’s chandelier that sets the tone of Lenney’s L.A. bungalow, a set of Tiffany watches given to Lenney and her husband on their marriage.

The essays that come from them, and make up this book on Lenney’s life, are open and generous, often about valor, dignity, failure, success, longing.

Just as open and telling are the stories that come from smaller objects – the little black dress, Bustelo Coffee (o Bustelo of the late 80s!), a flight jacket that Lenney treasures but her daughter abandons.

They are talismans, the brass ring dangling just in front of us, the genie’s lamp — how we stroke and stroke it hoping for success, ecstacy, perfection.

For me, perhaps the most devastating object in her collection is a set of Green Earrings, jewels of a mysteriously glowing power that her mother both gives and does not give, in a powerful ongoing somewhat torturous (to me) mother-daughter struggle of aging, beauty, succession.

They are a stand in for Lenney’s mother herself: they have the same intensity, weight and unattainability.

Of course, Lenney’s objects make us think of our own, and for me I could not but think of the Green Ring my own mother gave me. It was the most valuable thing she ever gave me — materially — and yet she did not give it to me, really.

It was an emerald ring from South Africa, belonging to my mother’s mother, the only truly luxurious gift my grandfather had ever given my grandmother in some fifty years of marriage.

But the staff in the nursing home where my grandmother later died, stole the emerald and replaced it with glass. My mother did not know this when she inherited the ring — at least not for some years. Then she finally had it appraised, and realized it was only glass, and at that point it lost its value to her, and she gave it to me.

As I recognized some time ago that my mother had never once given me anything of material value – only imitations and throwaways — I can now barely look at the ring. It  relays so much about the way my mother valued me.

Of course, there are things other than the material…

But to quote Lenney’s epigraph:

“I am giving you this because I love you. Or because it was given to me. Because I bought it somewhere special. Because you will care for it. Because it will complicate your life.”

Edmund de Waal

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Them That Honour Me…









WHAT do you say after the shooting of 50 people, about a man who blames a president instead of the republicans and NRA for blocking the sale of automatic lethal killing machines to the American public?

At the moment I can’t walk, due to a roll-up with my dog and the sidewalk last week. Some nice young black male literally heard me screaming on the pavement, made a run to help me and took the nice clean stylish shirt off his back to use as a tourniquet on my bloody leg. He also called 911 from his cell phone, gave them his name and details and waited for me until the ambulance came.

I mention that he’s black, because my neighborhood has a reputation for racism, in particular against blacks, though who knows who else?  At first I worried that it would make me sound racist to mention it, but at this juncture, in a place where some people still fear and move away from young black men, no it doesn’t. It means that this young black man took a risk in helping me, a greater risk than most would do, and for that I honor him.

Back to the initial question — about what to do about such a man as Trump. At the moment all I can think to do is what I am planning to do in the next months.

As I see TRUMP signs go up in and around this neighborhood (besides the “Repeal the SAFE Act” signs) I am going to plant my own Anti-Trump signs at night. Planting Pro-Hillary may not get me anywhere, but at least Anti-Trump with some appropriate slur of his, could help.

I realize I risk getting shot by a gun nut, so I may have to stick to the grass by the sidewalks.

But I will do it stealthily, under cover of the dark.  For to say nothing is, as we all know, to be complicit.  And to be a writer who is silent — as I read somewhere once — is to be a liar. Now is the time — in light of all going on at the moment — to speak up for those that honor you.  Folks, let’s not roll over.  Rolling over will not save you.


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A beautiful book that destroys language. Randall Munroe

Here it is, the worst book ever. At least from a writer’s point of view. I was first excited when I saw it. Not being the most brilliant human being in the world, I love short handed ways of learning about complicated subjects. And diagrams, illustrations, ways to see truths I might otherwise not see — awesome.

So I swept up this book from its library shelf, a book designed to teach complicated matters to simple folks. And it was great, at first. I read it outside the library, happy as could be, smiling at toddlers, children. But then I got stuck on this page to teach me about boats. What was that, I wondered, looking at the boat’s flag, called “sign.”? Why not call it a flag? And what was this, calling a boat’s deck a “floor.”? It’s not a floor, it’s a deck. And what about describing a majestic ship’s masts as front stick, middle stick, back stick? Or a figurine at the bow of a boat a “pretty part?” I liked “hanging beds” – that was cute -but otherwise, as someone once said of my collected life’s work, this was bullshit.
(More below the pic).scanboat

What the hell was going on here? I decided to read the intro, by bestselling New York Times author Randall Munroe.  He had decided, because people didn’t need big words, to create a book (Thing Explainer) explaining complex subject matter using only the most common words (ten hundred to be exact) the very very very average person uses.

“I’ve spent a lot of my life worried that people will think I don’t know enough. Sometimes, that worry has made me use big words when I don’t need to.”

So, therefore: stick for MAST, sign for FLAG, pretty part for FIGUREHEAD, rest room for HEAD, kitchen for GALLEY, stopper for ANCHOR. Jeeeze!!! The entire beautiful historic history of nautical lore and language erased.  

Randall Munroe*, you 31-year-old cartoonist, stick to cartoons. You’re killing us out here, us word liking people. Killing us, softly, with  your words (ok that get’s a lol).

Wikipedia: Munroe worked as an Independent contracting roboticist for NASA at the Langley Research Center before and after his graduation. In October 2006 NASA did not renew his contract and he began to write full-time.

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Me and Richard Peabody — Bonding over the SUV

RichardPeabodyReaderI’m choked up here, choked and not even knowing how to start describing as cool a player as Mr Richard Peabody when here it is, right in his own words right in front of me  (the way it always is with the best writers) Richard Peabody, to steal a phrase from one of his own stories is “one scrumptious cat.”

I first met him when I submitted a piece about the various whereabouts (thanks Courtney Love) of poor Kurt Cobain’s cremains to Peabody’s annual lit mag Gargoyle. I was moving at the time from one city to another in the southern hemisphere and had no fixed mail or email address. So Peabody, then in Washington, ended up tracking me down on the then rarely used vessel of Facebook.  Wo-ha! — 2007?– never again did I take Facebook or Mr Peabody lightly.

Almost ten years later and I met him in person at his own booth — of course — at AWP in Los Angeles — the (of course) long-haired too-cool-to-be-a-hipster scrumptious cat whose own personal Reader had just been put out by a colleague of his: The Richard Peabody Reader, ed. Lucinda Ebersole, Intro by Michael Dirda.

Unlike those college paperback tomes with unbroken screeds by the likes of Nietzche, this one has fancy fonts, plenty of white space and revelations, along with Neil Young lyrics, a riff on birds in Breugel and Bosch, a story from the POV of the man who ruined Elvis, (Colonel) as well as a tribute to Fiji water and a poem on the children of Derek Walcott (apparently there are many…)  It also has a triptych — and of course a triptych because Peabody is the King of form and of Experimental Writing. Just email him at Johns Hopkins for his personal list of greats as I did once. It’s why his Reader is so jumping.

As one, myself, who literally stalked (by moped) an expensive Australian suburb slapping self made stickers onto SUV’s and facing haughty indignation (and possible arrest) by rich overly decorated housewives (The stickers read:




you just know I would love this Peabody character:

“Am I Crazy, Hal thinks, or should people who drive SUVs be pulled from their vehicles and beaten with sticks?”

That’s right.

But Peabody is not clever for cleverness’ sake. Unlike, say a McSweeney’s humor piece that has no one inside it, a Peabody piece, whatever the form, always has Peabody in it.

His long form stories are real if surreal life: painful, rueful, amusing, tragic. Men make make dinner and mind the children, lusting over otherworldy fleshy creations. His male and female characters are serious, charming, often literary and eccentric : the white-chalked single mother mime from the Ukraine (in Key West), the wife who throws her art prof husband a birthday party in fishbowl IKEA (he’s sleeping with the nanny), the long suffering husband just trying to keep it decent.

Back to humor for a moment, my favorite work, which anyone who has been to a writing workshop will appreciate, is “Letters From the Editor” which consists of notes to students on their work (from which I select a few completely out of order, apologies Mr P):

NEEDS A MUCH BETTER TITLE. “Burying Connecticut”?

TOMMY HILFIGER is a good name for a character. Love the jabs at Glamour, and the drunken fumblings. Reads like real life…


WAITING FOR THE BUS seems so trivial.

LOVE THE ANCHOVIES AND THE allergic return to high school dreams. Hilarious…

LOVE HOW YOU USED THE oysters to frame the story. The rough sex is a good insight on both of them…

But perhaps  because Peabody showed it to me personally, the poem:  “I’m in Love with the Morton Salt Girl” is my favorite.  Buy this book for this one poem alone. You will feel good about the world every time you see a salt box for the rest of your life.  You really will. That’s a promise.


I’m in Love with the Morton Salt Girl

I’m in love with the Morton Salt girl.

I want to pour salt in her hair and watch

her dance. I want to walk with her through the

salt rain and pretend that it is water. I want to

get lost in the Washington Cathedral and follow her

salt trail to freedom.


I want to discover her salt lick in the forests of Virginia.

I want to stand in line for hours to see her walk on in

the middle of a movie only to have the film break and watch salt

pour out and flood the aisles.  I want to sit in an empty theater

up to my eyeballs in salt and dream of her….


That’s the first half..

You can buy the Reader and see a much more scholarly description of it  Here .

And thanks to the man also for publishing excerpts of my 52 Men in Gargoyle 64.



Me and Richard Peabody at AWP in Los Angeles, April 2016





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The New Zealand Academy of Literature

aotearoa-200x300This week New Zealand revealed its first Academy of New Zealand Literature, and it is truly inspiring for me to be included in the first 100 Members.  I left New Zealand young, only to return and to return in childhood and then as an adult for several years at different times — a country whose landscape and peoples arouse something in me so deep and mysterious — the delirium inducing landscape, the oceans always close to shore, the cliffs and craters and hot pools of iridescent blue — a country one of the most isolated in the world, and hence with a purity and beauty all of its own. I cannot do it justice in a five minute blog post, but I am very proud this week and for all the future.  I studied New Zealand Literature in Wellington at 21 for my Columbia College BA and was a news reporter on the Wellington newspaper in my teens and afterwards.  My MA was from New Zealand, in 2003, and my second novel Miss Me A Lot Of published there.  Many many other things to say, and of course of ancestors — but I have to go and drink champagne and walk the beach of Lake Ontario to enjoy my good fortune. Thanks to the writers there who made this happen, in front of and behind the screen. Especially Paula Morris and Dame Fiona Kidman and Vincent O’ Sullivan, Eleanor Catton.

Here is the link to the Academy.

And here is a link to my particular page.

New Zealand Or in Maori aotearoa — Land of the Long White Cloud

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One characteristic thing

sherbet1“It is a conceit so simple and ingenious that you wish you had thought of it yourself: 52 men — a few boys, many man-boys; 52 short fictional vignettes that evoke them.

“Memory has a way of reducing people to their essence, like a piece of sea glass honed to a bright, beautiful nub. This is, needless to say, a process that’s useful to a writer. “It seems to me,” says Carter, an introspective, sensitive 16-year-old who later commits suicide, “that sometimes people, especially girls […] have one beautiful little gesture they make, one characteristic thing.” For Leonard, the statement is something like a literary ethos.

“In interviews, Leonard has been transparent about the fact that she’s writing from experience (“Every story is a man and a memory that lives with me all the time”), and my guess is the names, while providing a thrilling little frisson, are also nonfictional stakes tethering the stories to the real world.

“They feel truthful, in part because, for all their weird specificity, they’re almost eerily universal…We all have such stories, and many of us have a deep and insistent urge to tell them. “We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion wrote, in one of her most frequently quoted (and misunderstood) lines.”

Amanda Fortini on 52 Men in the LARB SPring 2016 and online: Why Can’t You Be Sweet

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Why Can’t You Be Sweet?

Amanda-Fortini-e1347325060720Such immense gratitude and thanks for this incredibly thoughtful, deep and sensitive essay/review of 52 Men by Amanda Fortini in the Los Angeles Review of Books:  Why Can’t You Be Sweet? 

Some excerpts casually laid out for you here:

“A book “that still feels a tad revolutionary, even in 2016… when women write about their erotic adventures the tales have a different resonance and cultural impact than those written by men…

“52 Men suggests that our identity is at least in part a product of our romantic past, and that the particulars we choose to depict that past are significant, comprising a kind of personal psychobiography…

“Leonard’s focus is zoom-lens tight: she describes the various men, zeroing in on what they said and did -— and how she responded — in a pivotal moment.

“She suffered a grievous early trauma… and she’s wounded. Yet she’s also slyly, coolly observant and has transformed her experiences into art… We know her, ultimately, through the book she has written. The narrative specifics she selects to describe the men are hers, as is the deadpan humor; all of it arises from her artistic consciousness.

“Although in style and tone 52 Men differs from either Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights or Renata Adler’s Speedboat, it is, like both of these books, a novel of impressions unified by the author’s sensibility.”

Selections from the essay  Why Can’t You Be Sweet by New Yorker/New York Times/Rolling Stone writer Amanda Fortini in the Los Angeles Review of Books

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Older Men, Loving and Leaving Them

So I went to AWP in L.A. last week — the mega conference and book fair. And it was interesting, because I noticed something about myself  — and what I noticed pleased me, because it meant, friends, that I had changed, that I was not the girl I used to be. And though some might think this a shame, I found it a relief and quite pleasant.

I spent much of my youth, see, entertaining and being entertained by older men. And some of these men were great, and still are. But some of them — not so much. In fact, some of them, in a few vital cases, let’s admit, let me down.

Or is that they way to put it? Maybe not. Maybe it was more that they didn’t choose to do something for me, as a friend, when they could have, when I asked them, when it would have made a difference. And at the time — or times — I accepted this, and continued on with them, but I was not so much hurt as sort of baffled and taken aback. Because why would a friend not help another friend, particularly a younger friend who could benefit so? Honestly,  I didn’t know.

And there they were, at AWP, these few older male friends who I hadn’t seen in person in years, and who in the past I used to go back to even if they hurt me because  back then I had this compulsion see — stay with me — to please these older men, to win them over.

But I also learned, over time, that there is such a thing as generosity, and that some people are just more generous of spirit than others. And those are the people who give to you not because they owe you, or you owe them — but because they can give.

So I spotted one of the older men in the lobby of the Hotel Marriott, and another signing books at his VIP table. And whereas once, I would have approached to say hello, and smile and chat a while, this time I didn’t. This time, I stayed in my seat, I walked on by.

You only get so many chances to be generous in life, and he who goes back to the empty hand is a fool. I am not a fool now..

And by moving on this time, by the way, I came across a whole bunch of other people, such as Toni Neale (essays out this week in The Miles Between Me) and Sean Bernard — handsome young writer of Studies in the Hereafter — and the famed wild and eccentric Mr Richard Peabody – all of whom gave to me freely, and openly, and without fear — and who knows if I would have met them if I’d been hanging around trying to please those who couldn’t quite be bothered….

Cheers to the wise mind, and to smartening up and to being there “when the right one comes along.” Below:  Me and Mr P who also published me in Gargoyle 64 this year — thank you.
me and Richard


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Steve and me, from Flash Frontier in NZ

 This piece, Steve, is from the new issue of Flash Frontier, An Adventure in Flash Fiction. They also run a quite a long interview with me about 52 Men:  Here.  Maybe I’ll write some more about that in the next few days — will have to check if I am ‘quotable.’  lol Meanwhile: to Steve Raea, reporter friend of my youth: 

#53: Steve

I work with Steve, at The Dominion. We are both reporters. He lives on Mount Vic, and other times with hiSteve Rae on bikes girlfriend Diane. She is much older, over thirty. Things happen, Steve says.

We take his motorbike around the bays. The day is blue and cool and the light gold. We stop at my grandfather’s house in Lyall Bay. We lie in my room, and drink wine, and fool around. We go out to Red Rocks, and drink scotch, where the great seals loll. We head out at midnight around the rocky hills along the ocean curves to Makara. We do this so fast, and so drunk, I think it might kill us.

Back on Mount Vic, in his single room above the harbor, he plays me Simply Red: If You Don’t Know Me By Now… You Will Never Never Never Know Me. He plays me “Tiny Dancer” from the 70s by Elton John. Tiny Dancer, he says, is the name he will give his boat. When he gets his boat, which he plans to do soon, and sail away. I start to cry, at the thought of this. Steve cups my head in his hand. “You’re so intense,” he says. “What do you think,” Steve asks, “is the value of that?”

Then he tells me he louiseonbikehas something to say, something he realized when he saw my name in the newspaper. His father, he says, is not his biological father, but his stepfather. His biological father, Steve says, raising a scotch to me in his dim lit room above the dark harbor, “is your grandfather’s brother.” My grandfather? I ask. “Apparently.” My grandfather has more brothers than I have ever met. I pause. “So, we’re related?” I ask. Steve laughs. Steve clinks his glass to my glass. Steve reaches for the baby oil, to rub down my naked body. “I’ve been thinking, Steve says, “that I might change my name to your name.”

Soon, I take him to meet my grandfather. My grandfather takes him to meet his biological father. Diane buys him a new car and he moves in with her in Thorndon. Then he leaves the car in the garage and takes off to Tonga. He does not change his name. He buys a boat he calls Dancer and writes letters from the sea.


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Exile: One Year In

ElaineThis one goes out to my ex Charlie Smith of the new novel Ginny Gall

Remember the scene in The Graduate when Ben stands in the church above Elaine’s wedding tapping and calling out her name and her entire family stands around scowling and seething at him, something which Elaine sees and which spurs her decision to run away from them all?

Our desire to think ourselves loved by our families (and hence not fundamentally alone) has made a million psychiatrists rich, and a million lay people busy with the task of rearranging the truth and living in illusions so they can bear reality. But what happens when others come to you and tell you how others really perceive you, what they have been saying about you for years, in your presence and even absence — when all the well-meaning guides of your life have repeated, decade after decade, for thirty years, that your family is a danger to you? What then? What when you finally do believe them? When you finally face the truth and respect yourself enough to break away?

It’s freeing, of course, the moment of realization. It allows you to look elsewhere for your bond to life.  Such as, did you know, they think now that the cells of a fetus remain in its mother’s body all of her life (and beyond)? And did you know that if the universe is nothing but matter rearranging itself, death has no meaning?  And that your life does not have to be a struggle to be loved? It is only a matter of being with those who do love you?

So complex, human nature, and the lies we tell ourselves. I was watching the new film about the psychologist who performed the Obedience experiments in the sixties, and though it was shocking and disheartening, to discover that some 65 percent of people will obey orders to physically harm another if they believe they ‘should’,  that still leaves 35 percent who will break away, who will protest, who will endure the ignomy of not being obedient and accepted.  Are you one of the 35 percent?  If so, come to me.

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This Kind of Loneliness

“She was so lonely,” I read in a book once, that “she grew away from other people.”  It could have been Milan Kundera. Or perhaps Sherwood Anderson. I was 21 and living at my grandfather’s house in Lyall Bay, New Zealand.  I had fled my life in New York City — in love, strung out, abandoned and abandoning —  and the emptiness inside me felt as vast as the ocean at the end of my grandfather’s street.

iceballsYears later, when this kind of loneliness returned, I was 37, and again — after sixteen years — returned to my grandfather’s house.  At that point, my loneliness was so great, I couldn’t even speak to people. Stepping into a store was painful. Speaking to a cab driver or a library clerk was fractious. Being met by “how are you?” or “can I help you?” when the sound of these words was unbearable.

What cures it, this kind of loneliness?  Most of us think it is other people — the love of other people.  But first, to be loved by other people, one must be able to tolerate them, to tolerate their closeness.

I  think of this fairytale I liked as a child in which the earth opens up to reveal a whole new world in which a prince’s people are preparing for his wedding.

That’s what loneliness is — the vision of an abyss, of another world we have no part of — the awareness that one might be passing through life with no tether or meaning at all.

My solution to this — to the great loneliness?  To tether myself.  To walk the lake.  To breathe the oxygen from the trees. To  watch the ice balls float in the January  lake.

Corniness — I was raised to hate it.  But nothing is so different between us and the earth, birds, balls of ice.  One cannot be lonely when one has experienced this.



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Will you please be quiet please: Me and Mr Merton

NYGE1-Minh-vow_400 x 292Down at the monastery, resting my brain, I ran into Brother Isaac who is also the poet John Slater, and we basically blew up the silence rule by discussing   erasure poems, 52 Men, Raymond Carver, Carolyn Forche, and Slater’s book of poems Surpassing Pleasure  for two hours non-stop in a room off the abbey.

Later,  I was listening to a talk by Father John Eudes, who had been Abbot for some 30 years, and a monk for 66. “Suddenly, at at any moment,” Eudes was saying, “you will be facing death. Your  bodies are chemicals, 97 percent hydrogen and so on, and you will dissolve.”

Most people, he said, especially those with a higher education, had no idea of what more there might be.  He looked around, lowered his eyes, lifted them up again. I mean, he asked, “How can people be so dull?

A little later, out in bookstore by the Monks Bread Shop, I realized that Eudes was actually Father Eudes Bamberger — author of the book Thomas Merton : Prophet of Rewewal — that Eudes had known Merton for 18 years and screened applicants to the Abbey with him.

Imagine, I thought,  that John Eude’s hands had touched Merton’s. And not only that, but that Merton — Eudes told me — had written so much at the monastery he had exhausted both of his secretaries who came to Eudes privately and said, Please, could you get this guy to slow down a bit, Please?

Merton died in 1968, electrocuted by a fan when stepping out of a bath in Thailand. He was 53. Father Eudes was  the American who identified his body when it was flown back in to the States.

It’s all so fantastic, what you discover when you set out to rest the brain. As Brother Isaac writes in Surpassing, all of which poems I tried to read down  in a great rush down there at the Abbey of Genesee:


… here in the green world between

eternal fields of light

there is time

there is ample, empty, time

to acknowledge

all that is passing….


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All Gravy, From Now On: The James Jones First Novel Award

James JOnes winners


You know what’s better than being a winner? Than being a winner who gets up on stage and collects a prize for Best First Novel and a check in the thousands of dollars, and the feeling that Yes, from here on in it’s All Gravy for Me?

Being a past winner: being a past winner with a bunch of other past winners, as above two days ago, at Wilkes University in PA with six winners of the annual James Jones First Novel Award, founded by Jones’ daughter, novelist and writer Kaylie Jones.

And why is it better? Because when you win, — let’s face it — you are younger than you are now, and when you are young and you have worked hard, and been praised, and been fortunate, you think — let’s admit it — you think somewhat, well, Yes, Of course! I deserve it! You  you think you have been recognized — (for what you already were); you think this selection of you is a result of you and your oft praised ability and your hard work.

But some years after the win, as all of us in the photo above are, you realize that you were lucky.  That every writer around you has worked and struggled and despaired and doubted themselves.  That writers “as good as” or more “brilliant” than you are born every day.

At the same time, charming new James Jones winner Cam Terwillinger  writes in this piece that after taking a trip abroad recently, in an effort to expand himself and be different — and then discovering himself abroad with hundreds of other people his age striving in exactly the same way to be different — that he no longer believes he is “original,” and that there is no such thing as the original self:

After meeting all these folks, you have to realize that no matter what you do or where you go you will never be truly unique. It’s liberating in a way to realize that originality is a myth.

With this, I strongly disagree.  We are all original — and good writers most of all. To be a good writer, one must turn oneself inside out; one must become an Inimitable Self. No writer is any good until he/she discovers his/her original self.

But two, ten or in my case 16 years after being chosen out of some 600 manuscripts as the “best,” you realize that luck was shining on you all the time: that you, too, are the gifted one that understands as the poet Louise Gluck understands:

The darkness lifts, imagine, in your lifetime..  Everywhere you turn is luck….

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Have any of your 52 men been in contact since the book appeared?

GuyHere is Guy Somerset, left, reading his launch speech for my second little novel in New Zealand: such “scrotum-tightening insights into the hollowness of male desire,” Guy said — ever heard a better blurb? Not for one of my books you haven’t.

Guy once kindly picked, in his newspaper column on books, my American published and freighted to New Zealand (and therefore for sale for some exorbitant $33) first book Since You Ask as his discovery of the year!  Discovery of the year! It was awesome. I have seldom been so happy.

Then, most kindly, he started assigning me book reviews for the magazine for which he was then Books and Culture editor: The Listener. Even when I was overwhelmed in my personal life (no, really, you ask?) Guy patiently let me rewrite, waiting for me to get a proper thread to pull my book reviews together. Then he’d send me another book to review.  It’s called cutting someone some slack. And you know, I appreciate that. I really do.

Below is his interview with me about 52 Men for the New Zealand Arts Festival.  Thanks Guy, for thinking of me, and asking the hard questions:

Fifty­-two – that’s a lot of men. Were you surprised how many there were when you totted them up?

Read the interview here: Five Questions for Louise Wareham Leonard


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An Interview with me, by Caroline Leavitt !!!

LouiseAtVSWlgWhy it took me so long to start writing; how no one will stop me now… On the vitriol of  social media, and a note to the 52 Men, in particular… was I even available?

Pic by Paul Dodd of Popwars. Interview here:  Down the Rabbit Hole of Relationships: Caroline Leavitt interviews moi. 


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How to Date a Writer — in the Rumpus this week

shakespeare_1758033bFUNNY WOMEN #132: HOW TO DATE A WRITER

Friends, this piece of mine is in The Rumpus this week:

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What Girls Like: the publisher on the 52

Some men are already angry about it.  Angry because this character dates men and throws them away.  Women are supposed to long for comfort, to weep, to wish, to pine, to wait by the phone.  Our girl sallies off to the next date. She washes her hair and starts all over again.  She will survive.  She’s energetic. She’s sassy. She’s on to the next one.  She dates Jonathan Franzen, Michael Stipes, Lou Reed.  She’s unstoppable, somewhat unstable, but dishy and cool.  Lots of men don’t like smart; they like sweet. They don’t like a witty roil and tumble as much as fumble with their trousers in the dark.  And speaking of the dark, this girl comes across as both brilliant and wounded and that might scare men too.  Women will love this book; it’s already a buzz.  Women like other women with power in their fingertips.  In the author photo, Louise Wareham wears boots. And boots as we know, are made for walking.

Kate Gale, Red Hen Publisher:



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Richard, Sergio and a boxer who reads Neruda at the Turkish Baths

52Men on Tin House BlogUpdating from yesterday, with the screenshot:  Three Men, an excerpt on the Tin House Blog here. 

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Crazy Times, Good Times, S-e-x-y times

And today, fr52Men_RedNameom TIN HOUSE, three of my personal favorites

(because yes, they’re S-E-X-Y….)  Please click  Here.  

Richard “the deadhead”

Sergio with his euphemisms for Sex

Tony the boxer & The Turkish Baths

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52 Men: the trailer; Carter Cooper, age 23

And now the trailer, with pix of the anonymous few, whom you must read about in order to identify… Unless, perhaps, you recognize Carter Cooper, who died on this day July 22, 1987 aged 23.

Maybe, he says, we could take the train out to Montauk. Or
we could go to Vermont and find his brother. We are not city
people, are we? Whenever he thinks of me, he says, he thinks
of the ocean.

First exclusive excerpts from 52 Men, on view today at The Rumpus AND The Fiction Advocate. 

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A Pyrrhic victory – the awful grace of God


Yes, he has won, but his victory is soiled and has no pride.  Why is it that the Greek playwrights of three thousand years ago can rip your heart to shreds? Or should the question be, how do they do it?

I knew a long long time ago that I was not a Shelley or Wordsworth kind of’ ‘girl.’ I mean, I liked them and all — I walked Wordsworth’s Lake District, and visited Dove Cottage. and Shakespeare’s thatched shack on Stratford-Upon-Avon.

But all of it paled beside the Greek playwrights, besides Euripides:  And shall not Loveliness Last Forever. Besides Sophocles: He has won, but his victory is soiled and has no pride.  Also, there was the Roman Catullus: I love and I hate and I know not which, and the pain is crucifixion.

Tomorrow — or at least soon, I am going to unearth these brief writings that had such an eviscerating, enlivening affect on me and I am going to Amaze you with them:


And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God

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Trump Threatens to Sue My Ass, a little story

Trump 86“Yes, he has won, but his victory is soiled and and has no pride.” So said Aeschylus,  and so say I, any day that I hear the voice of Trump, a voice I have had in my brain, since my youth.

It was on the phone. I was twenty and an intern reporter at TIME.  Trump was being sued by a hotel chain.  I called to  ask Trump about it, and straight away he started calling me  “Babe.” It was “Babe” this and “Babe” that and an occasional “doll.”  His voice was a sunbath.

Then I read aloud to him one of the allegations against him, which I had before me in an Affadavit.

You should have felt it — the change in atmosphere.

“You Print That,” Trump told me, and I’ll Sue You.”

I wish I could say it was the last time I heard a man turn on a dime. But now —  as a woman more experienced — see 52 Men –I can say with  confidence: such is the method of charming insolent un-serious men.

And these men — men of a certain kind – how many times must they reveal themselves before we remember their true selves?  We must keep trying, I say. Keep trying until it Takes.


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Slip Away

streethassle_alb-streethassle (2)SO your girlfriend left you. Or your parents moved country, without telling you, thinking it would be some kind of Gest.

And they’re gone. And you wonder, Why Am I Here? In this speck of land, in this County, in this Country? And you look around.  You walk the street. You examine the tree, which, while you were not noticing, has turned green.

And this is how it is, in eternity.  Just you. You looking around. You waiting for the next thing. And you kind of like it.

Street Hassle: (Lou Reed)

O babe I’m on fire and you know that I admire your body.   Why don’t we slip away…

Although I’m sure you’re certain, it’s a rarity me flirting this way..

Hey babe.. come on let’s slip away….

Just like when you were fourteen and fifteen, alone in your room at one a.m. leaning out the window smoking a cigarette and realizing this is it. Moon in your hemisphere. Nowhere much else to go.   Hey that c*nts not breathing… I think she’s had too much or something or other I mean you know what I mean?…. 


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Weird Fucks and 7th Heaven: Patti Smith and Lynne Tillman

Weird_Fucks-HeroAlt-960x540 PattiSmithseventhheaven

Always I have been a fan of little things. I had a wagon as a child, a little red one, and used to drag it around the garden and to houses checking if anyone had any “little things” to spare.  I favored tiny objects: a plastic monkey from Barrel of Monkeys, a ceramic owl, a broken tiny figurine, a fancy shaped rock.

My passion for small things extended to books. Even now, my faves are  03, (74 tiny pages), Briar Rose by Coover, (86) Theseus by Gide (51). And I’d rather have ten pages of Aristophanes  than 100,000 of old English verse.

As a teenager, one  of my favorite discoveries was Seventh Heaven by Patti Smith: 47 pages, in a tiny little white paperback, and with the following poem, in its entirety, about Marianne Faithfull:

I was born in Hampstead. My mother wasn’t

screaming so they didn’t believe she was in

labor. Later I went to convent school. Later

I rode in leather. Later I took some sleeping

pills. I needed to lose

Jane Eyre is tiny, too, at least my 1932 edition is. So is Smith of Wooton Major.  Could it be that small terrors must be contained in small spaces? That striving to fit all we can into into a tiny box or space or form or page, is a way to control that emotion, that experience, that pain.   Lynne Tillman, having recently received my 52 Men galley kindly sent me her little book, above, the 58-page  Weird Fucks.  And it’s all there: the intensity, the glee, the intelligence, the pain and the loss and the making of her, we, us.


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Book of the Week: “03” on a streetcorner

“From the bus stop across the street it was hard to tell, but suddenly I understood, seeing the passengers in the van that collected her every morning, that she was slightly retarded.

Once you knew, it was easy to make sense of her thin adolescent frame, her black hair spiking up on her little head as though she were enduring some slow, endless horror, her eyes, like that of a heroine in a Japanese cartoon forced open onto the real world, eyes so round and so opaque that if they’d focused on me, I might almost have picked them up like two black marbles rolling in the gutter at my feet.”

Ask not why this book drives me to distraction with it weird lust and frustration, its setting a bus-stop, its lyrics from Joy Division, its childhood specious and a lie.

“… and I weighed up the pros and cons, what tied me to life like a blood oath, what left me cold, or tired me out; and when the noise grew sharper, more grating, and when the headlights from the first bend in the road began to cut out the sides of the buildings and project a slow revolving shadow dance on the wall, I always came back to the same conclusion  — that I felt something stir inside me, as hazy and phony as a childhood memory, as insistent as a hit song you’d heard so often you couldn’t get its bitterness out of your head, something that promised me a better future, only somewhere else….”

84 tiny pages  Valtat

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Hello Darkness Goodbye Franz

franzSo I was upset when Franz Wright died last week. He is, as one obituary said, a “beloved poet” to many, including me. The first poems of his I read, twenty years ago now, took me by the throat and shook me.  Talk about a man who has lived. He spoke to darkness and to grief and to anger and to life — and he also, later, spoke to God.

I’d been watching him on Facebook for the past year or so. He had lung cancer, and was ill from opiates and withdrawal, and kept posting grueling videos of himself looking strung out and desperate, reading his poems right into the screen in a voice so low and ragged I could barely make out the words.

I checked with some people to see if he was ‘all right’ and they said he was, as such things went.

But he was asking, still on Facebook —  if he could give readings somewhere –this a Pulitzer Prize winner — for $5,000 a university visit.  I don’t know if anyone took him up on this and now he is gone.

It makes me so angry that a man such as he could die struggling in this culture — the same culture that gives a $2 million advance to a billionaire’s daughter for her vapid badly written ‘novels’ (yeah, I went to school with her.) I live in horror and dismay at the rise of the one percent in this country.

Then there is Franz Wright’s father James, who was also a Pulitzer Prize Winner in Poetry.  You know what he said to Franz, when he read his first poem?  “Well, it looks like you’re a poet. Welcome to Hell.”

God Bless Franz and all those who fight the good fight. We need you. I need you. I love you.

Thank you for plumbing the depths and writing for me.  Below, the very first poem of his I ever read, decades ago cut out of The New Yorker: The Comedian. 11066135_10152809487282761_3063216015030491497_n

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Billion Dollar Paul – Man of the Week

scanpaulheadshoto Paul Derecktor, son of the founder of Derecktor Shipyards — the “Billionaire’s Boatyard” in Mamaroneck, NY. Rumor had it back in the day that his father Bob — about 70 years old at at the time — was about to retire and sail around the world with his new wife. Only his wife, who was 32, had hurt her back and was bedridden.

Bob was what they sometimes call “popular with women.” And his son Paul — handsome, charismatic, with — as someone other than me — put it recently  “ice blue eyes and a somewhat hurried impatient air” was said to be the same.

Some months after Paul and I met cruising New York Harbor, he got quietly married. When my editor asked him about this he replied, “who wants to know?”

Some people just get away from us. So I was somewhat sad to hear this week that the famed Derecktor Shipyards has twice, recently, declared bankruptcy.  It has the proportions of Greek tragedy, at least to me.  Some people are born entitled. What happens to them, if all is lost? Are they still impatient? Do they still possess their  imperturbable stillness?  Recent updates reveal Derecktor is on an upswing. Still waters running deep. Thy ships will come in over a calm sea...

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Yes, I am Cruel

I was reading Vince Passaro today, talking about his alma mater, and all it was promising to new students, and it reminded me of  particular schools I aheiress1ttended in New York City in the early eighties and what they promised their students — to be cultivated- it appeared to me- in the art of subtle and arcane cruelty, to learn to inflict the most damage with the least effort, to use words to have as much vicious impact as the violent ripping out of a human heart. Did my school teach me such? Did it teach my school mates, many now lawyers and leaders of the free world. I still say the Brits teach it best: this art of destroying others cruelly and while appearing not to.  But Yes, I say, Yes, as Catherine says in Henry James’ masterpiece Washington Square, shot above in movies as “The Heiress,”  Yes, I can be very cruel.  I’ve been taught by masters.

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