• beauty: blaming our mothers


        I blame my mother. Or I have for the last 60-odd years. I blame her for what I didn’t like about my childhood, for what I don’t like about myself, and especially for how I feel about my looks. Name it—it’s always been her fault. After all, she did have a withering, critical eye […]

  • to look or not to look


    Hunting an illustration for an essay about my father’s late-life mutation into a skirt-chaser, I googled “lecherous old men painting,” and up popped Susanna and the Elders. There were dozens of versions. The paintings depict a biblical story of lechery, a popular subject in the Renaissance and beyond, and fit my subject only too well. […]

  • diagnosing the dirty old man


    This essay was previously published in a somewhat different form on Cognoscenti.wbur.org on April 22, 2015.   The stock character of the dirty old man dates at least from the Romans and is a comic staple today; but, when your own father becomes that character, it’s no joke. If it’s someone you’ve always loved and […]

  • Abracadabra for Writer’s Block


      In fairy tales, Abracadabra has the power to break spells. And what is writer’s block, if not a maniacal spell that roots you to the spot? Oddly, I was once stuck in such a spot until released—not by that eleven-letter charm, but by a sixteen-word one. It wasn’t magic, but it felt just like […]

  • Dashed Hopes That Keep Giving


      Shortly after taking up writing in my late 40s, I finished a memoir piece that seemed an honest but sympathetic portrayal of my contentious family. A noted writer I’d had the nerve to show it to gave it his stamp of approval. So I took an even bigger chance and sent it to my […]

  • family miser


    The journey into old age is not all downhill. In fact, one of the pleasant surprises is the fresh, hilltop perspective that it offers on the past. Now, nearing 70, I am more inclined to see the important people in my life in the context of their own backstories and times. The inconsistencies in the […]

  • Glimpsing the Father Who Was


    Watching my widowed father age as he neared 90 was like watching an old photo fade: every time I saw him, he was a little less himself. Day by day, Leo, a humanist, a devoted Central Park South dentist, a lover of opera, golf and political debate, shriveled into a generic old man, irascible and […]

  • So, is writing therapy?


    “Know thyself” is a tall order. Is it even possible to uncover—without outside help—what is blocked from conscious awareness? To my great surprise, writing a memoir did just that. I began the memoir almost a decade ago, and during the many years I worked on it, I experienced three epiphanies that completely reversed core beliefs […]

  • the how of epiphanies


    Someone who read my essay in Thinking Writing on the ways in which memoir writing can lead to psychological insights, wrote that she found the first revelation to be “very powerful because it’s …so incontrovertible,” but the second and third “less convincing, because they are more internal, much more complex, and still open to interpretation… […]

  • Misguided


    Once it was Baedeker or nothing. Now a slew of guidebooks compete for the privilege of answering the traveler’s every question. Usually I take along only one book, but on one trip to Northern Italy many years ago, I packed four: Fodor’s for the basics, Michelin for authoritative facts and maps, and, just in case […]


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