Tuesday, March 3, 2015

on becoming derailed...

Roald Dahl on How Illness Emboldens Creativity: A Moving Letter to His Bedridden Mentor

“I doubt I would have written a line … unless some minor tragedy had sort of twisted my mind out of the normal rut.”

My daily rhythms of reading and writing were recently derailed by a temporary but acute illness that stopped, unceremoniously and without apology, the music to which mind and matter are entwined in their intimate tango. For the second time in my adult life — the first being a food poisoning episode — I was made palpably aware of how body and brain conspire in the thing we call being. The extreme physical weakness somehow short-circuited the “associative trails” upon which fruitful thinking is based and my card to the library of my own mind was mercilessly revoked. And yet as recovery airlifted me out of the mental haze, returning to my mere baseline of cognitive function felt nothing short of miraculous — as soon as I resumed reading, everything sparked fireworks of connections and illuminated associative trails in all directions. It was as though the illness had catapulted me to a higher plane of what Oscar Wilde called the “temperament of receptivity.”
This, of course, is not an uncommon experience — both the tendency to treat illness as an abstraction until it befalls the concreteness of our body-minds, and the sense of not merely renewed but elevated mental and creative faculties coming out on the other end of a physically and mentally draining stretch. But no one has articulated this odd tradeoff more masterfully than beloved British children’s book author, novelist, and short story writer Roald Dahl (September 13, 1916–November 23, 1990).
In 1954, Dahl traveled to Jamaica with his friend and mentor Charles E. Marsh — a Texas publisher Dahl had come to see as a father figure and a model for the “geriatric child” the author himself would later become — where Marsh contracted cerebral malaria from a mosquito bite and suffered a series of small strokes that left his speech and mobility severely damaged. When Dahl returned to New York — Marsh was too weak to leave Jamaica — he set out to lift his mentor’s spirits with a magnificent letter of sympathetic solidarity and supportive assurance, found in Donald Sturrock’s altogether absorbing Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl (public library).
Dahl, who had barely survived a plane crash thirteen years earlier while working as a wartime fighter pilot in Britain’s Royal Air Force, reflects on how his own struggle with debilitating chronic pain provided the mental springboard for his career as a writer:
I just want to tell you this: I am an expert on being very ill and having to lie in bed. You are not. Even after you get up and get well after this, you still will be only an amateur at the game compared with us pros. Like any other business, or any unusual occupation, it’s a hell of a tough one to learn. But you know I’m convinced that it has its compensations — for someone like me it does anyway.
I doubt I would have written a line, or would have had the ability to write a line, unless some minor tragedy had sort of twisted my mind out of the normal rut. You of course were already a philosopher before you became ill. But I predict that you will emerge a double philosopher, and a super philosopher after all this is over. I emerged a tiny-philosopher, a fractional philosopher from nothing, so it stands to reason that you will advance from straight philosopher to super philosopher. 
I mean this. I know that serious illness is a good thing for the mind. It is always worth it afterwards. There’s something of the yogi about it, with all its self-disciplines and horrors. And it’s one of the few experiences that you’d never had up to now. So take my view and be kind of thankful that it came. And if afterwards, it leaves you with an ache, or a pain, or a slight disability, as it does me, it doesn’t matter a damn; at least not to anyone but yourself. And as you’ve taught me so well, that is the only unimportant person — oneself.
Whether or not Dahl’s final remark is a reference to the notion that the individual self is an illusion, which Alan Watts began popularizing around the same time and which some of today’s greatest thinkers also champion, is unclear — but it was certainly a notion in the cultural zeitgeist.
Much more of Dahl’s insight and genius spring to life in Storyteller, which chronicles the life of this beloved eternal child from his adventurous youth to his days as a fighter pilot (during which he dreamt up his gremlins) to the creation of Willy Wonka and beyond. For a lighter treat, complement it with some real recipes from Dahl’s beloved children’s books.

Inkin' it today...

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Monday, January 12, 2015


My first cancer-free scan since February 2011. Completely gone. Oh yeah! 

Friday, January 9, 2015


Is there such a thing?

Hell no. I've been with the same man for forty-five years, but have been with at least five different partners (in him... ). I married this insecure little boy because I was a child myself without a definitive plan except to get away from home any way I could... short of becoming an eccentric Gypsy and developing a magic act with my best friend. I did leave home believing I could be anything I wanted to be including a politician, a singer, mother of ten or a wandering Jew.

All I know is that from years of having this relationship to a man with whom I have zero in common, we have bonded over the most important thing in life - our family. By the book, we shouldn't be together at all. I come from Christian Science academia types who used linen napkins. He comes from Jewish factory workers who used the wrong fork. I come from Emily Post and reading the classics. He comes from immigrants whose greatest pleasure was owning and becoming obsessed with their color TV. We didn't own a color TV, and dragged the tiny black and white one (this was the 50s) around to different areas of the house to watch the random documentary on the African Dung beetle.

Where my husband and I  did connect from early on was food. Yes, we are both foodies. Is this a prerequisite to having a soulmate?

Uh, no.

But, foodies do require a stocked kitchen which is inside a house of some kind and so you can't have one without the other: co-habitation. I am a fabulous cook, but my non-soulmate partner takes it to another level. Even though it seems as though I may be rambling... I am here to tell you that having a longterm relationship has nothing to do with anything except having something you share. Even something small. It clearrrrrrly isn't background, education, or (as mother would put it in her East coast canine-bitch-speak: BREEDING.


Bottom line: if you want a longterm relationship, family (or a hobby to share) is enough. Hell, anything that you share a passion for will keep you ticking together for decades - like an interest in African Dung beetles. Soulmate? Us? Not so much. The problem with people today and marriage is that their expectations are waaaaay too high for another person to fill every need. Fill your own damn needs and enjoy doing something daily with your partner, and maybe (just maybe) you can have a chance to have it last more than five years.

Will there come a time when he will piss me off (again) and I'll dream of moving to NYC (again) and becoming a Gypsy with a magic act? You bet. I'm human. Not to mention, I have a great imagination which could take me anywhere I want any time a day. What the hell... I may learn to juggle oranges this month.

Honestly? This man of mine has had to put up with my brand of crazy wannabe Gypsy nut for most of his life. Not to mention, I am utterly unable to assemble anything with instructions.


What you want, baby I got it.

Poison apple...

AlycohenBy Aly Cohen, MD, FACR, Special to Everyday Health
Could your choice of shampoo or cookware be harming your health?
As a rheumatologist, I am often asked why patients have developed a particular autoimmune disease. I take a holistic view of their illness, so I inquire about the patient’s stress levels, diet and exercise patterns – and any chemicals they may be exposed to. This helps me better understand the role their environment may play in their  health.
A growing body of research suggests that chemicals in everyday products may  put us at risk for health problems – from infertility and birth defects to certain types of cancer. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now monitors a total of 298 environmental chemicals that have been found in humans, including many used in consumer products. These chemicals can gradually build up in the body, potentially making you sick.
While it’s impossible to avoid exposure to all environmental chemicals, there are ways to rid your home of many of these potential toxins. Here are 10 items you may want to avoid buying, toss or replace:

1. Plastic food containers

Ever wonder why clear plastic containers turn cloudy after running through the dishwasher a few times? Plastic breaks down over time, and this breakdown can release dangerous chemicals into your food. Many plastic containers are made from chemicals including phthalates, which act as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs).  Switch to glass containers.

2. Prepared foods in plastic containers

You don’t necessarily have to toss these, but don’t heat them up in the plastic. Heating plastic can release chemicals that seep into your food. It’s well worth your time to take a few extra seconds to transfer prepared foods into a glass container before heating them in the microwave.

3. Nonstick pans

Many nonstick pans contain trace amounts of a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), which has been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. The pans’ non-stick lining can scratch or chip off into your food. Instead, use cast iron or stainless steel cookware, and natural, non-stick sprays such as olive oil.

4. Air fresheners

I never allow artificial air fresheners in my home. Anything you breathe in eventually ends up in your bloodstream. Plug-in scents or synthetically scented candles many contain chemicals called phthalates, which have been linked to reproductive problems. Instead, choose candles made with essential oils and fresh flowers to scent your home. Also,  try using baking soda and white vinegar as odor absorbers.

5. Perfumes

The one-word ingredient “perfume” can translate to a product containing upwards of 300 chemical ingredients. (Perfume companies won’t release lists of exact ingredients for fear of divulging secrets to their competitors.) Avoid perfumes and colognes or switch to products that are scented with natural oils.

6. Fabric and upholstery protection sprays

Stain blockers essentially create an invisible plastic barrier over your furniture. This plastic will eventually wear off and be released into your home environment. Instead, simply clean stains as necessary rather than trying to prevent them.

7. Cleaning products

Check the labels of cleaning products for chemical ingredients such as phthalates and chemical surfactants. Natural products like baking soda, Borax, soap powder, vinegar, lemon and hot water work just as well without coating your home in toxins.

8. Cosmetics

From shampoo to lipstick, the average American woman applies up to 12 personal care items, and the average man up to six, to their skin each day. That adds up to roughly 126 unique ingredients, according to the Environmental Working Group, a public health advocacy organization. Opt for cosmetics with mineral-based pigments and natural oils. Choose soaps and shampoos free of synthetic fragrances and chemicals such as triclosan, which has been found in animal studies to alter hormone regulation.

9. Antiperspirants

Many antiperspirants use aluminum-based compounds and other chemicals, which are absorbed into the sweat glands. While there are ongoing studies on possible health impacts of antiperspirants, I advise avoiding any chemicals that are absorbed into the body for non-medical purposes. You can find aluminum-free antiperspirants, and there are many chemical-free brands of natural deodorant sticks and sprays that don’t contain parabens and all ingredients with ‘PEG’ in their name (such as PEG-8 and PEG-40 hydrogenated castor oil).

10. Sunscreens with oxybenzone

Research on animals suggests that chemicals in some sunscreens, including oxybenzone, may cause health problems when they penetrate the skin. The safest sunscreens are made from minerals such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, but they can be very expensive. In general, avoid aerosol spray sunscreens, which you can accidentally inhale, as well as sunscreens containing chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone, octinoxate, retinyl palmitate (a form of vitamin A), and fragrances.

Beware of ‘Natural’ Ingredients

When you’re looking  for safer products, keep in mind that term “natural” means almost nothing in the food and cosmetics industry, as it’s not regulated by the FDA. Instead, look for “organic” labeling, because organic ingredients are federally monitored, and really mean something in the food and cosmetics world.
A good start in finding a safer products for yourself and your home is to avoid items containing parabens or -sulfates (such as sodium lauryl sulfate or sodium laureate sulfate) or items labeled “fragrance” or “parfum.”
Of course, it may not be practical for you to toss all of these items at once. Instead, try swapping out one product at a time with a safer version. Even small steps to minimize your chemical exposures can create a healthier and safer home.
Aly Cohen, MD, FACR, a certified rheumatologist and integrative medicine specialist at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey, recently completed a fellowship in integrative medicine at  the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. Her book, The Smart Human: Essential Guide to Living Healthy in a Chemical World, is slated for publication in January 2015.

Thursday, January 8, 2015


I have only one resolution this year and that is to honor those who honor me.  I choose to let all the others go away.

I think as humans we want what we can't have and so those easy relationships fade to us even though those are the the ones we should cherish like a delicate egg. I would rather be alone than to pander to the difficult, the irresponsible, the insensitive and the cruel ones who roam the Earth and seduce me into thinking that I need them.


Give me simple. Give me drama-free. Give me honor and (good God almighty) I'll follow you anywhere.

Happy New Year to me.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014


The changes to our culture through social media has made me feel as though we are being taken over by a nasty machine. I find myself being sucked into it, but I don't want to succumb to the monster. If I am being pulled into the vortex, what the hell will this is mean for my grandchildren, and to their children?

I am blessed to have been raised in a simpler time. Yes.  I'm in awe of those who invented all this nonsense, but somehow, for all of its technological cleverness, the web of lies has isolated and depressed us all as we compare ourselves to the masses of photoshopped strangers. How this will translate to impressionable ten year-olds scares the hell out of me. In the land where prettiness is king, violence is just another game, and isolation is an indoor sport... 

Earth, we have a problem.