Monthly Archives: November 2011

Rothko, “Red”, and Writing

“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom…The fact that people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions…” Mark Rothko 

Rothko, one of the most eminent of the American abstract expressionist artists who redefined modern art after World War II, set an exacting standard for himself and by implication for the rest of us who consider ourselves to be artists whatever our medium might be.

Recently I went to see a production of the Tony Award-winning play “Red” that explores the tortured artistic genius as he struggles during the late 1950s with a prestigious commission for the Seagram Building in New York City. Rothko argues for the spiritual value of art and maintains throughout the play—aggressively and vociferously—that the role of artists is the pursuit of truth through their art.

My memoir, “August Farewell”, seems to have met Rothko’s criteria according to the consistently impassioned feedback that I have received from readers.

The jury is yet to pronounce on my most recent writing venture, a novel entitled “Searching for Gilead”. As my first attempt at writing fiction, I can tell you that I have a paint can full of insecurities about it.

Ironically, with the memoir I wasn’t trying to write for anyone else. My heart was broken (still is) and the book just poured out of me. I followed up with the novel where I was grappling with complicated personal and global issues, trying to think them through by means of creating characters, dialogue, and plot. This time I was intentionally writing something that I hoped would speak not only to me but also to others. Whether I succeeded or not is yet to be determined.

The play “Red” leaves open the question of whether, in fact, Rothko believed that he was able to live up to his own standards. His suicide in 1970 suggests one possible answer.

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Information on my memoir “August Farewell” and my novel “Searching for Gilead” is available on my website at

Both books can be ordered through your local bookseller or through on-line retailers such as,,,,


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On Pets Dying

Simon our cat is dying it seems.

I know this second hand because of the phone call I got last night. You see Simon doesn’t live with me anymore.

After my partner Bill died, Simon went into mourning. I hadn’t realized until then how much animals feel the loss of their human keepers. Simon would stand at the doorway of the bedroom, look at the empty bed that Bill had occupied, and meow and meow and meow. Something was wrong. Someone was missing. “I know Simon,” I would say as I picked him up in my arms to pet him and comfort him. “I miss him too.”

Bill and I had been together a long time – thirty-three years. During that time we had a series of pets, usually orange tabby cats.

Initially, there was Rufus. We named him Rufus after a gay friend of ours who had a great head of blond hair – our friend was not amused. Eventually, Rufus aged and died. Rufus the cat I mean. We lost track of Rufus our friend so he may still be out there thriving somewhere.

After Rufus, we got another orange tabby. We called him Sebastian. (We always had male cats. Curious.) Late in Sebastian’s life we brought a playmate into his world – a large white-and-tan-coloured rabbit. We named him Barcey, short for Barcelona Bunny since we had gotten him from the Humane Society just after having returned from a trip to Barcelona. Apparently, cats and rabbits come from the same genetic pool way back somewhere. So Bill claimed. It certainly looked possible given how Sebastian and Barcey interacted. Barcey would hop around after Sebastian and nudge him until Sebastian started grooming him. Sebastian was getting on in years and not all that keen on having to take care of this youngster so he would wander off after awhile. Barcey would hop after him and the care-giving cycle would start again. Eventually, Sebastian would scurry off and hide somewhere that Barcey couldn’t find him. Barcey would keep looking. He was cute but somewhat of a slow learner.

Then, after both Sebastian and Barcey died came Simon. We had been without a pet for a while. Bill would insist that we stop in at the Humane Society from time to time to look at the animals. On one visit twelve years or so ago, an orange tabby came up to the edge of the cage, locked eyes with Bill and let out the most plaintive series of cries insisting that he and Bill were meant to be mates for life. Bill swooned. And so we brought Simon home and lived together happily ever after. If only.

Bill and Simon were inseparable. Because of Bill’s MS, he was in bed quite a lot of the time which suited Simon just fine. The two would cuddle together and sleep in each other’s arms for hours at a time. That was until Bill was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer in August 2009 and he ended up in a hospital bed that we installed in our living room. Simon wasn’t keen on sleeping with Bill in that bed. It was as if he sensed that something was amiss. Something certainly was amiss. Bill died two weeks after his diagnosis.

As Bill was dying, an article appeared in the newspaper reporting on some research about cats’ seeming capacity to sense the approach of death. Bill got a great chuckle out of the cartoon that accompanied the story – a drawing of a cat holding a sandwich board that read “Your Time Is Up.” The cartoon on yellowing newsprint is still on my fridge.

Simon, as I said, went into mourning and couldn’t adjust in our home to the loss of his Bill.

Two friends were looking for a cat and offered to adopt Simon. I took Simon over for a trial period and they all fell in love with each other. Simon got the attention he craved 24/7 and my friends got his company and adoration. So for the past two years since Bill has died, Simon has lived a very contented life. 

Last night my friends called me. Simon seems to be dying. He has stopped eating and drinking and the visit to the vet yesterday was not encouraging. My friends weren’t sure if they should tell me because they knew I’d be upset. I’m glad they called. I would have wanted to know.

The news triggered another eruption of the waterworks that are never far below the surface. I was relieved that I was alone.

After I calmed down, I consoled myself by remembering that Simon had had a good life over the past two years in his new adopted home full of my friends’ attention and love.

This morning I woke up in the midst of a dream that I was in a new adopted home full of attention and love. But it was only a dream. 

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Update six hours after writing and posting the above blog: I’ve just come from visiting Simon at my friends. The vet called with the results of yesterday’s tests. Unbelievably, Simon has pancreatic cancer – the same type of cancer from which Bill died.

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Update #2: twenty-four hours later – we have now put our very ill Simon to sleep.

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Picture of Bill and Simon in bed together.



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Information on my memoir August Farewell – the Last Sixteen Days of a Thirty-Three-Year Romance and my novel Searching for Gilead is available on my website at

Both the memoir and novel are available for order through your local bookstore or on-line book retailers such as,,,,




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Love and Loss on Twitter

A group of us lost a Twitter friend recently.

We’re perplexed about what has happened and we’re afraid to move toward mourning because of what that implies.

All of us in the twittersphere adore Twitter (when it’s working).

Regularly I read tweets about how surprised we all are at the relationships that develop on Twitter. We meet people who share common interests and experiences. Before we know it, we’re confiding our joys and our sorrows to these new friends whose full names we may not even know.

We can go onto Twitter at almost anytime day or night and find a friend with whom we can joke, discuss issues, pour out frustrations, enthuse about a book we’re reading or concert we’ve just come from, flirt, cry, find support, kibitz, or just chatter.

I find it difficult to understand the nature of the intimacy that develops so quickly among us. Part of it may be the semi-anonymous nature of the relationships. Sure, once we put something on Twitter it’s there for the world to see. Yet we don’t seem cognizant of that when we tweet.  Primarily what we seem to be experiencing is a conversation with good friends. But because it is semi-anonymous and we really don’t know each other as we do the family and friends that we have on Facebook, we’re prepared to lower our inhibitions.

As I make reference to lowered inhibitions, your mind is probably racing to the sexually-explicit examples that appear from time to time in the press. But, I believe, of much more frequent and profound significance are the lowered inhibitions that allow us to pour out our grief at a personal loss, or our anger at a betrayal by a loved one, or the loneliness of having lost our partners. Many of us may feel reluctant about excessively burdening our family and close friends with these problems. Now, we have Twitter where we can go and at anytime find support. Having recently joined the ranks of the widowed, I’ve been amazed at how supportive other widows and widowers on Twitter are to me and to each other.

So, we’re developing these intimate Twitter relationships that are becoming quite important in our lives.

But what we haven’t yet experienced much and hence haven’t yet reflected on is what happens when we lose one of those Twitter friends.

That’s what has happened to a group of us recently. Our Twitter friend used to be a regular part of our conversations. Then, he wasn’t. We all started noticing his absence. One day, when we clicked on his Twitter name, the riveting response came “This user does not exist.” OMG!!!!!!!!!!!!!

We know his Twitter account and his first name but that is about it. There is no way for us to contact him, to find out if he is okay, to see if something serious has happened. The fact that he is elderly has heightened our anxiety.

We’re not ready to conclude the worst. We have no way to ascertain whether it is the worst. And so we’re left in this ambiguous place.  

Twitter has opened up wonderful new intimate and meaningful relationships for us.

Twitter love we have.

Dealing with Twitter loss is a whole other thing.

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Information about my memoir August Farewell and my novel Searching for Gilead is available on my website at 

Both books can be ordered through on-line retailers including,,,,


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