Being Dead Is Easy. Getting Dead Is Hard.

mystical-door-shutterstock_184672772-webonlyBeing dead is easy. Getting dead is hard.” — Gerrie Glover

Gerrie is a wise and formidable lady, and truer words were never spoken. I thought of this maxim of hers over and over while my mother, Molly, was going through the process that ended in her death on January 22, 2017.

All this time I’ve been writing about the “dead” and the spirit world from a position of being in touch with that reality, but for the most part I was not down in the trenches with death itself and its gritty and messy biological details. It all became immediate and concrete when my mother had a stroke on January 12. I’m going to write about what I observed in hopes that it is useful to someone.

First, on December 30, 2016, our 20-year-old cat passed. She had done astonishingly well for a long time with her failing kidneys, but her body reached the end of what it could handle. Sheena had been velcroed to my mother constantly for a few years, and her death was a hard thing for my mother to get through. We nursed the old lady through to the last, very hands-on because she would not allow herself to be left alone and cried if we weren’t right with her every moment. We were left with her tiny body between us on the sofa, like a perfect sculpture of a cat down to every hair but somehow no longer a cat. My mother wondered what we should do with the body overnight, since it was late and we weren’t going to bury her till morning. “Well,” I said, “no matter where we put her body, she will probably be in your lap.” And at that moment I felt Sheena crawling into my own lap, a small warm weight that stayed till it was necessary for me to get up.

For a few days it was as if we still had two cats, only one was invisible. After that, it seemed that we only had one cat.

Shepherding Sheena through her journey, being the person who listened to see if her heart had stopped, arranging her little limbs for burial, gave me a kind of dry run or rehearsal to help me deal with what would happen with my mother. In Sheena’s case, there were no wrenching medical decisions to make, no questions about whether she might get better. We had known the end was coming and that there was no treatment possible. Things are more complicated with humans and hospitals.

On January 12 my mother suffered a major stroke, affecting areas on both sides of her brain. I think the emergency room doctor had the right instinct. She told us very gently, based on what she saw, that it was time to think about making end-of-life decisions. But within a few hours my mother was able to move her left side again, and within a couple of days she was speaking somewhat intelligibly and swallowing a bit. It looked like she might recover enough to at least sit up in a chair, communicate and feed herself. We exhorted her to rest so that her brain could heal as much as possible, but for a while she was using a lot of energy to make it clear that she wanted to get the hell out of the hospital and get rid of the IV and the other medical annoyances. Which was certainly understandable.

Two and a half days after the stroke, late on January 14, she was able to explain to my daughter that she was ready to go and had nothing else she needed to do. She had great difficulty speaking but was able to get a whole paragraph out and be completely clear. “I’m ready for the sky,” she said, and Lenore confirmed with her that this was really what she meant to say. We’d pretty much known that she felt that way, as she had been weak and had felt rotten most days for a long time, due to problems with her heart, but it was a great gift to hear it in so many words and be sure of it.

The hours and days had a way of running together, and I’m having trouble remembering exactly when various events occurred. It was probably the 16th when she suddenly pointed straight ahead, no trembling in her arm, and clearly called out, “Ann!” That’s her eldest sister, with whom she had had some previous dreamlike contacts. “Is she here?” I asked. My mother nodded. Since the other contacts had been extremely helpful and positive, I was glad to hear it. I couldn’t detect my aunt myself, but I knew that communication with deceased relatives was common near the end of life, and I took this very seriously. My husband and daughter were familiar with this phenomenon as well, and I think that was when we all knew she was turning the corner toward death.

I will spare you the details of the indignities and unpleasantnesses that my mother had to suffer over the next few days. We were told that most people in this kind of situation “just slip away,” but unfortunately she had to take a harder road. We had assumed that the severe agitation she was displaying so much of the time was an effect of the stroke and would likely improve, but if anything it got worse. By the time the palliative care team came to see her on the 17th, she had been through at least a day of hardly any rest or respite and the nurses and I were getting frantic trying to help her. As soon as the palliative care doctor saw her, he recognized what was going on as “terminal delirium.” I had never heard that term before, but apparently it happens a substantial percentage of the time.

The doctor said that we should stop bothering her right away, pull the IV, the heart monitor, and the other devices that could not possibly do her any good. Thankfully, we were moved to a private room where there was relative quiet. We still had a terrible night because the low doses of medications being given weren’t enough to stop the seizure-like agitation. I couldn’t imagine any of us going on like that. The palliative care people agreed and very quickly and efficiently put through an order to move to the inpatient hospice. Their nurse held me and let me weep all over her.

The Kaseman Presbyterian inpatient hospice was a revelation. Instead of a cramped, chaotic hospital room, we found ourselves in a space big enough to walk around easily, with home-like seating and nearly perfect calm, and an atmosphere that felt like it was filled wall to wall with angels and helpful beings. Soon after my mother was brought in and my daughter and husband and I gathered around her, a priest came in to give her the blessing for the sick. The moment Fr. Charles opened his mouth to pray, it was as if the ceiling opened and a thousand more angels dropped into the room. My mother had been stressed further by the ambulance trip there, and this uplifting interlude was soothing to her as well as to the rest of us. I had only once before had an experience like this with being prayed over. Not everyone has that kind of connection to the heavens, it seems.

We more or less lived at the hospice during the next few days. They had a miraculously comfortable place for a family member to sleep, such a contrast with the hospital, and I took advantage of that. The first night, Wednesday, I felt that I was embraced hour after hour by myriad beings of light, wrapped securely in grace and benediction. In that state it was easy to make a strong heart connection with my mother and feel her embrace as well. I was up often to respond to the nurses and check on things, but when I slept it was a wondrous and restorative sleep, and I dozed off and on far into the day, with the staff encouraging me to rest.

Despite that, Thursday night I felt ill and crashed at home. I intended to go back to the hospice in the middle of the night, but never made it. We all continued to limp along through the process, my mother still sedated most of the time and moving slowly toward the end, not really responsive anymore.

Friday morning there was some drama. Her body became extremely hot, not just to the touch physically, but radiating incredible energy all around. The nurse could also feel the heat and energy— I think anyone would have noticed it— and she and I assumed my mother must have had a raging infection by that time, but since they don’t take temperatures in hospice, we didn’t determine whether she had an actual fever. It was far more than that, though. I had never seen so much energetic activity around a person, and I’ve seen a lot. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and wondered if it had anything to do with the nonphysical part of her moving away from the physical substrate. I haven’t found any information or opinions about this, but much later I did see a reference to a dying person’s skin becoming very hot at about the same stage.

I will describe my subjective perceptions of the next stages of the process. Friday night, as I was keeping watch from the sofa bed across the room, I saw what looked like a sudden opening in my mother’s chest, like a door or hatch being opened. Something that seemed whitish poured out. (This was a “mind’s-eye” vision— I was not looking directly at her.) This energy appeared to congeal into a mass near her body, with a sort of band still connected rather tenuously. It looked like a vague ribbon or stream to me, not the famous “silver cord,” though it must have been functioning in the same way as that.

Drifting through the hours in the middle-of-the night state of grace (not dreaming, mind you), I lost track of where that main concentration of energy was. Where is my mother? I kept asking myself. She didn’t seem to be close to her body anymore. Fryderyk was accessible, and I asked him what he could see and if there was anything he could explain to me about what was going on. I said something about wanting to be sure to be present when my mother actually passed and not wanting to miss the moment.

“If you wait to see it, you will already have missed it,” he told me in his usual aphoristic and slightly cryptic way. In images, he conveyed the idea that death is not a moment but a series of steps or distinct events.* I was already witnessing it, he said. And as usual, I realized that he was telling me something that should have been obvious to me already.

The next morning, Saturday, I found a distinct change. Her skin was still physically quite hot, but there was almost no feeling of energy near it at all. My mother’s body was still functioning, more or less the same as the night before, but she was somehow much less alive. She had already been mostly unresponsive, but now she seemed not to be “in there” in the same way anymore. I took this as a positive sign. It seemed much better for her not to have to experience too much of her body’s travails.

My understanding was that beneath the painkillers and sedatives, the body was still feeling some distress. I could detect a strong sense of disturbance in her heart, that is, the physical organ, and I felt pain in my palm when I held my hand near that part of her chest. I mentioned to the nurses that I was feeling pain in her chest, and no one seemed to think anything was strange about my statement. Hospice personnel hear and see all manner of things.

We began to feel like midwives, encouraging my mother to make the leap into the next birth. We talked to her and told her it was OK to go, which we figured she knew, but we thought we should say anyway. We started to wonder whether there was some unfinished business we didn’t know about. As I would with a regular patient, I poked around and looked for any emotions or issues that might show up, and worked to clear the minor things I found. (Mostly, she was concerned about leaving the mess of papers and paraphernalia in her bedroom for us to sort out.) We reassured her that we were fine and she didn’t need to worry about us.

I stayed over again Saturday night, afraid to leave, thinking that it would happen anytime. By mid-morning Sunday, I was wanting to get a change of clothes and clean up, and the nurses were gently pushing me to get out of there. (We know that often people wait to pass, not wanting to do it in front of their loved ones.) “Did your mother spend a lot of time alone?” they asked.  (She did.) “Maybe she’d like some alone time now.” So I went home, and Bob went to replace me a little while after. Hardly an hour later, they called for Lenore and me to come back right away.

It was almost comically anticlimactic to rush back to the hospice only to sit there again just as before. But things were beginning to change more noticeably. An elderly friend who hadn’t been able to come sooner arrived with her daughter, and they confirmed, based on their experience, that it wouldn’t be long. Their perspective and wealth of experience were helpful, but a little disturbing and imposing too. When they came to my mother’s bedside, I moved to the foot of the bed so that they had space, and they immediately told me not to stand there. Huh? They explained that in their belief system, the soul exits the body through the feet, and they didn’t want me to block its passage. I was completely nonplussed by this thought— I’d been brought up Catholic too and had never heard such a thing— and taken aback that anyone would try to dictate anything to me at my own mother’s deathbed when she was so near the end. I moved over, though, mumbling something about having seen my mother’s chest open and her soul pour out that way already, which didn’t seem to get through to them.

Every so often the nurses checked on the color of my mother’s extremities and the sound of her breathing. There was nothing to do but wait as the death rattle set in. I sat very close, and the sound was terrible even though I knew it was normal and expected. I was insulated from the distressing events, though. What I mainly experienced was the warm, reassuring sensation of my mother embracing me as if I were a tiny child. It was an incredible gift. I knew that whatever her body was going through, she was fine, and so was I. I wished that my husband and daughter, and the staff too, could feel what I was feeling and know the same peace.

I was the one who probed for a pulse and announced that it was gone. The nurse confirmed the time of death, then left us to say our goodbyes. We weren’t quite sure how to react. I remember blurting out, “I’m so excited for her!” and really meaning it, since so many new possibilities had suddenly opened for my mother. She was vibrantly present in the room, so I kept talking to her. Her mouth was hanging open awkwardly, and I wanted to close it for a more dignified appearance, thinking that she would not appreciate being seen that way. I kept trying to reposition her head to make that possible, and it just didn’t work no matter what I tried. I apologized for my failure, laughing helplessly. The absurdity somehow seemed natural. We found ourselves engaging in some gallows humor, and I wondered how the other families in the facility were dealing with this kind of thing. It was surreal and bizarre as much as it was sad, and at that moment I was feeling relief more than anything.

I wistfully noted that the individual cells of the body, most of which were probably perfectly healthy, were now condemned, along with the billions of commensal organisms that ride along with us and make our human life possible. But that is the way of things.

My mother was around and available a great deal for the next few days, and others besides me experienced and enjoyed her company. I couldn’t really feel grief-stricken, since she wasn’t gone. She didn’t continue to hang around so much of the time, and I expect that she’s been doing more worthwhile things than watching us, but there is contact now and then. I still haven’t found her current will; I’d thought I knew where to look, but her papers were not arranged the way I expected. When I begged her for help in locating it, she pointed me in a definite direction in her bedroom— but what we found there was her will from 1963… this would be a great time for me to be a much better medium than I am… still no current will to be seen, unfortunately.

But that situation can be easily dealt with. I have no major complaints. My mother is dead but not lost, and I’m at peace with her and with the process of her life and death. I’m intensely grateful to have been privileged to observe and perceive so much of what went on. My only discomforts have been a few small lingering questions about the medical decisions we made. I’m comfortable that we did the best we could with the information we had at each moment, though.

I understand far more about death than I did before, but there are myriad questions remaining. For one, I have been wondering, if a person dies suddenly in an accident, by gunshot, etc., do they go through the same stages, only much more quickly? Or is it a very different process? I’m sure there must be some after-death accounts of sudden deaths out there.

Friends and patients have been telling me about their experiences of the deaths of their own parents and others close to them. I would love to hear anything you would care to share, either as a public comment or privately.

*Michael Tymn posted this on his blog at

‘In his 1998 book, Light & Death, Michael Sabom, an Atlanta cardiologist, cites an article by Dr. Linda Emanuel, who comments that life and death are viewed as non-overlapping, dichotomous states, whereas in reality there is no threshold event that defines death. “Several scientific observations support Emanuel’s argument that loss of biologic life, including death of the brain, is a process and does not occur at a single, definite moment,” Sabom writes.’


Filed under channeling, health and healing, spirit communication, spirituality

On the Nature of Persons


Fryderyk hadn’t been around for a couple of weeks, and I was starting to feel lonesome. I “rang his phone” a number of times during the day, and then late in the evening, while I was reading in bed, he visited.

A little while before that I had seen a video about Jay Greenberg, a young composer and pianist with near-miraculous abilities, someone it seemed Fryderyk might be able to relate to, a good topic of conversation. The boy was only 12 at the time the 60 Minutes excerpt I saw was made, but he had already written a huge amount of music, and even as prodigies go, he was positively scary. For example, at the age of 2 he’d started asking for a cello, although his parents were not musicians and he’d never been exposed to such a thing, and he started drawing wobbly staves on paper and putting notes on them. When he was given a cello, at age 3, he could play it right away.

I told Fryderyk what I had seen and asked if he had anything to say about it. Many of us see reincarnation as a likely explanation for such extreme abilities in children, and indeed, in the Leslie Flint tapes, the Chopin entity had talked about his efforts at music in other lives, and being ready to hit the ground running in the 19th century because of that preparation. Michael Tymn* favors another theory, that the spirits of deceased adults who had developed their abilities in the arts during their lives “overshadow” and take control of these children, using them to express their own work. What did Fryderyk think about that?

First, he gave me to know that I was looking at the matter from the wrong angle. This happens rather a lot– at least he no longer insists that I’m not listening to him! The idea of a person having different lives in sequence was incorrect. I don’t think of time as linear, myself, so I was fine with that. This part was fairly incoherent, with a sense of rushing energies and various ideas flying at me at once. I struggled to pin it down. “What are you?” I asked for the zillionth time. As has happened before, I saw a flame– same thing you and I are, of course. When I tried visualizing a child artist, such as himself, and asked about other spirits floating around trying to control it, I got nothing.

I was able to pick out the thought that the rushing lights and colors represented a person and its activities and creations, and that the person was an extensive being that existed in many forms and did many things at once, so to speak. He seemed to be using the term “person” (at least as I was hearing it) to mean a total entity including what we might call the Higher Self and any and all individual, earthly lives or personalities. I would be more likely to use that word to mean one of those individual personalities, myself. So I asked him to elaborate on what a person was, in his view.

This time I got words. “A person is an outpouring from God,” he told me. Along with that, I received feelings and visual flashes of a kind of river of light and fire. I still wanted to know more about how he saw the relationship between the different parts of the larger entity.

He explained, “The person is a force which pushes out in all directions, and those directions look like separate lives.” This sounded a lot like the concept described by the Seth entity years ago, in books like The Nature of Personal Reality. It also sounded so good that I wanted to be sure to remember it. I turned a light on and hunted around for my notebook and pencil, which would normally be right by my bed, but dang, I had cleaned my room and moved them. By the time I’d written the sentence down, the contact was broken. As I had feared. I wanted to ask him something about his own larger being, but there was no more communication to be had.


* Find his blog here, with links to his books:



Filed under channeling, music, past lives, spirit communication, spirituality

Inedia, Molecules, and What Are We Made Of?

While working on something else, I came across this page I’d written in 2008 while in the midst of taking a seminar in Richard Bartlett’s “Matrix Energetics.”  It explores some ideas I want to develop soon in these posts, so I think I’ll just submit it in its original form for the moment and whet your appetite.

Yesterday, before the intro to the Matrix seminar, I was reading an article on “breatharianism” or “inedia,” in which people go for very long periods of time without taking in physical nourishment and yet stay alive and healthy. The article, written by psychologist Jon Klimo, did not say that this is necessarily possible or true, but since there are recorded cases that are well studied and seem convincing, it asks whether there might be some kind of theoretical framework that could allow for this phenomenon. Klimo uses zero point energy, among other concepts, to offer possibilities.

(Seems like Chopin was attempting inedia at times, but I think being able to breathe well is a prerequisite if you are planning to live on air….)

I was thinking, “This sounds a lot like what we’ll be talking about in the seminar.” And right then I saw the Matrix Energetics book listed near the top of the bibliography. I’ve had the article for a couple of months, but didn’t read it till now, a time when it fits right in with the rest of what I’m thinking about. This is always happening to me. Sometimes the universe is so nice and convenient.

The inedia article, in part, concerned what humans are made of and what really happens when we take substances and energies into our bodies. This led me to ask a question I hadn’t thought about in a long time: What is Fryderyk made of? He doesn’t have molecules these days—or does he have them, but in a different form? (Just bear with me for a minute here.)

Not that we understand what molecules are made of. They certainly aren’t made of anything solid; if you cut them into smaller and smaller pieces, you find that there aren’t any pieces. There’s just something that could perhaps be called energy, though that’s not a particularly good term for it. I’m not sure what the fashionable term is for the fundamental Stuff at the moment. We could call it Qi, which would be fine with me; Oriental medicine says that everything is made of Qi, and that concept fits my experience. When I was a Rosicrucian, I learned to call it Nous. Whatever. Now we know that what we always called “vacuum” and thought was empty is actually seething with activity, serving up particles of all sorts at every instant and destroying them just as quickly, so that we don’t notice unless we look for them in the right way. “Solid” matter appears and disappears effortlessly and instantaneously, matter and energy transform into one another, and everything seems to do whatever it damn well pleases.

One of the first things Richard Bartlett told us in the seminar was, “You think you matter, but you don’t, ‘cause you aren’t!”

I always thought of Fryderyk and his ilk as being made of Qi, like the rest of us, but missing that one layer that appears to us as matter. In terms of energetic perception, a “dead” person feels very much like a “live” person to me—indistinguishable, in fact, if I am not in direct contact with the Earth-plane person’s skin or clothing.  (One of the entertaining aspects of being in a room containing 560-plus individual humans is noticing the different flavors of their personal fields—otherwise, I pretty much hate it. Some people I would like to have sitting next to me all the time, others I want to get away from as soon as possible, and most, strangely, I don’t notice at all unless I put forth some special effort. The field of the group as a whole, as you can imagine, is pretty overwhelming.)

But we don’t know what Qi is either. Some of the people writing on healing, Qi Gong, etc. talk about electromagnetic energy, but Qi can’t be electromagnetic. I wish it were, since that is something we sorta kinda understand, but it it’s not. It can’t be, because the strength of electromagnetic fields falls off rapidly with distance, but Qi can be shown to act at seemingly impossible distances. These effects are measurable. While there are models within physics that involve action at a distance, the EPR paradox and Bell’s theorem, as far as I know they do little or nothing to explain phenomena like remote healing. They also don’t explain the observed effects, also at a distance, of purely mental interventions like prayer or positive intentions. So saying that everything is made of Qi doesn’t resolve the mystery.

This matter (no pun intended) of Qi-at-a-distance is bothering me increasingly. It’s an obvious reality that can’t be avoided, yet it doesn’t fit known physical laws. Which has to mean we don’t know all the laws yet, because everything is ultimately physics. I don’t know what kind of research strategy could deal with it, and I don’t have the math(s) to even begin to think about this like a physicist might. If physicists were thinking about it, which only a few of them are willing to do. (David Bohm and Nick Herbert deserve mention.)

Metaphysics is physics too, just physics we don’t understand so well yet. I don’t think there’s really a “meta” anything, except maybe metaphor. And whatever Fryderyk is made of, it has to be physics.

One way, one fruitful way, to look at reality is that it is made up of interacting fields. Unfortunately, that is likely to bring us back to electromagnetism, but for a moment let’s postulate that everything is information. Dr. Bartlett said that we were working with fields of information, that that is what we are. Ah, I thought, Fryderyk is a field of information. I think that’s probably the closest I’ve gotten to the truth of the situation. But what is information made of? I have no idea.

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Filed under channeling, health and healing

Some Strong Words about Strong Words


One can hardly blame the folks at this store in Osaka who thought these signs were in perfect contemporary English.

Have you noticed that we need a whole new set of cuss words? The old ones have been neutered by constant exposure and are now pretty much useless.

In particular I speak of the venerable F-word, now so completely defanged that one may use it in front of one’s grandmother without even noticing. (Though the grandmother is likely to notice still.) It’s so ubiquitous that at times I wonder if anyone remembers how to use any other words at all.

I’ve noticed, in some internet interactions that were both amusing and annoying, that if someone complains about being constantly effed on, they are instantly jumped all over and told to eff off because they have failed to understand the subtle and subversive meaning that is intended, and they’ve totally missed the point. Whereas they may simply have found the writing ugly. I’ve certainly had that reaction. There’s not much of a subversive effect left anyway.

I was just visiting the fun pop-science website  The full name, used on their Facebook page, is “I fucking love science,” which makes me feel a little bit embarrassed when I share their posts.  I noticed that their Twitter handle is @IFeakingLoveScience, though, and the section of their site where they sell things is the “I Love Science Store.”  So I suppose they are not entirely comfortable with That Word, either?  (I was unable to find any rules on Twitter that say you can’t use the F-word in your name, but perhaps that’s the case?)

The amount of effing on John Oliver’s show mystifies me. Oliver and the Last Week Tonight writers are surely persons of wide vocabulary. They don’t need to repeat the same word over and over; they have plenty more to choose from. Yet it seems like almost the only adjective used on the show is “fucking.” It gets old. I don’t understand why such a clever, insightful, educated bunch of people must use such monotone speech.

And that is my main complaint. I’m not making a moral judgment. I would like to preserve the ability of the strongest words to add seasoning to our language. Cuss words are known as “salty” language, right? Well, constant effing is like having every meal drenched in the hottest chile. There’s no variety, and one becomes numb.

Where can one go, these days, to add emphasis, outrage, or shock value? When the most shocking word can no longer shock, what is left? Do you have any candidates for a possible next Very Most Shocking Word?

And why is the very “worst” word one that signifies one of the very best things?

What do you think?

I wrote the above a while back, and then Pussygate* occurred. Apparently the capacity to be shocked still exists. The term usually shows up only as p***y or the like in print, and now seems to be a contender for the top Shocking Word. Of course, this was not merely a matter of the word used— the word was a description of a heinous and criminal action that had been done to real women. (The objective meaning of the noun itself, again, is something quite positive.)

Even a small child can easily figure out that this is not the way to speak or act.  Colin Farrell, the actor, reported on his 7-year-old son’s sadly hilarious reaction: “Now he can’t stand Trump because I had to explain to him why [he] keeps on being mean to kittens. He just keeps grabbing those kittens.” It seems that Henry can’t understand why people are being so mean to other people, either. He knows it doesn’t have to be that way.

In a powerful speech last week, Michelle Obama mentioned another little boy who took exception to the use of coarse language by a certain candidate. She quoted the boy as saying (as nearly as I remember it), “He called someone a piggy. You can’t be president if you call someone a piggy.”

I suppose these young men will become jaded and contaminated in the not too distant future, but at least for now they are wise, and they give me hope. Let’s remember what we all learned in kindergarten. Surely we can bring the level of our public discourse up at least a couple of notches from the deep trench it’s fallen into. I am fucking determined to try.


* For those reading in the future when this wretched election season is mercifully forgotten, Donald Trump was revealed to have spoken enthusiastically about assaulting women, using the P-word in a particularly disgraceful way.


Filed under politics

Another Human Being’s Identity Is Not Yours to Dictate

(Rant Advisory! I am as upset about this as if it pertained to my own child, or to me.)

So very often I am reminded of the old song that goes “None of us are free if one of us is chained.” It adds, “And if we don’t say it’s wrong then that says it’s right.”

Sometimes the chains are kept locked by those who think of themselves as far beyond bigotry or intolerance.

In the past week I have encountered two attacks against transgender people that appeared on the surface to have some higher intention. Both were warmed-over versions of old arguments.  One came in the form of a supposedly spiritual look at gender identity through the lens of reincarnation, and the other purported to be a principled defense of the rights of women by a feminist group.


I could call out the “spiritual” thinker by name, but I’m not going to, because his presentation is not just his own but represents a turn of thought that is all too common. It’s been used against gay people, too. The idea is that if you are not comfortable twisting yourself to fit into a gender-binary, heteronormative life, it’s because you were a different gender in a previous life, and either through confusion or through willful stubbornness, you are still clinging to identification with that gender. If you persist, you are stupid and bad. You should just get over it and move on, and then you’ll be fine.

This is the exact same paternalistic crap promulgated by religious groups who insist that God made you either male or female and that’s that. God doesn’t make mistakes, and so if you don’t feel right in your body, you are going against God, and therefore you are sinful and bad.

I’ll get to the so-called feminists later. First, I want to take a look at exactly what God/nature/biology did make. Because we do have some actual facts to work with.

While it would be nice to have human reproductive biology all wrapped up in a neat, understandable package, the more we learn, the more we see that things are complex and fuzzy. “Male” and “female” are not definite categories with hard edges. I’m sorry if someone dislikes this, but it’s reality. Some easily accessible sources of information follow.
According to this, about 1 in 2000 humans are intersex. Another source estimated 1.7% of births. That’s a lot of people. Some may never realize they are anything but typical male or female, or may only find out late in life. One person I’ve read about was a seemingly ordinary middle-aged man with a bunch of kids, who had an abdominal surgery and was found to have a uterus in addition to his full set of male reproductive parts.
There are a variety of possible intersex conditions, with varying appearances and health considerations, briefly summarized in this article.

If that’s not enough, take a look at the fascinating case of the guevedoces. A few weeks ago I learned about them in an excellent PBS program, Nine Months that Made You. In the Dominican Republic, about one in 90 boys have this condition, which has also been found in Papua New Guinea. They have XY genotypes like “regular” boys, but they lack an enzyme that is needed to develop male genitalia in the womb, so their parents think they are girls and raise them that way. At puberty, they have the usual surge in testosterone and become obviously male all of a sudden. Of course, they were biologically male all along.

So are we clear now that external genital configuration does not equal gender? Likely we’re not clear at all and I’m still going to get a big argument from those who insist on a binary world, but in that case, they’re going to have to register their objections with God, because this is the way nature is put together. A religious and/or spiritual viewpoint, it seems to me, would have to say that there must be a good reason for things to be this way. A purely materialist viewpoint would say the same— that nature has shaped human bodies and brains in a dazzlingly diverse variety because it’s been helpful to our survival.

Some might then point out that transgender people are not the same as intersex people, and that most probably have clear male or female genotypes or phenotypes. But there appear to be differences from cisgender folk in those cases too, albeit subtler ones. As far as we can tell, transgender people have brains that function more like the gender they say they are rather than the one indicated by their genital apparatus— though this too is complex and a bit fuzzy.

Here is a link to another useful PBS program.
What struck me most about it was that the kids decidedly look like the gender they say they are. That’s not a hard scientific fact, but to me, it reinforces the concept that there is a physical basis for being transgender.

I don’t pretend to understand much about these aspects of our biology, nor how they fit with how we become who we become when we enter a new life on this planet, or what choices we have or don’t have about our embodiment. My conjecture is that gender exists as a spectrum so that we can experience every permutation of it, but that’s not fact. What I know for sure is that it makes no sense to tell others how they feel inside themselves— either how they do feel or how they should feel. It’s illogical and it’s just plain mean. And when it’s coupled with a holier-than-thou or more-enlightened-than-thou message, it’s positively sickening.

Now, to the lawsuit filed by the Women’s Liberation Front, or WoLF. It’s the bathroom thing again, same as the extreme right’s fearmongering, strangely enough. They are insisting that “men” in women’s restrooms are a threat to women’s safety. I’m not going to rehash the reasons why trans women are no threat to cis women in this context (or anywhere else, really). You can find those all over. I’m only going to point out that trans women are not men. In their brains, the part of the human body that matters most, they are women. So denying ordinary human rights to those women cannot be feminism. Not in any way I can recognize it.

The latest post on WoLF’s Facebook page, in reference to the rule allowing kids to use school facilities consistent with their gender, states: “Girls’ rights to personal privacy and freedom from male sexual harassment, forced exposure to male nudity, and voyeurism have been eliminated with the stroke of a pen.” This makes my stomach churn. I am of course not a trans girl trying to navigate high school (which is hard enough for the rest of us), but reading this, I can viscerally relate to what they experience. It is terrifying. To be just a kid and know that others assume you are a sexual predator, when all you want to do is attend PE class and not get beaten up… to be hated and censured by “righteous” people one has never met… it boggles the mind and even more the heart. Imagine being, say, a second grader, too young even to have a concept of voyeurism or anything like it, having no idea why people are saying these terrible things about you.

(Please note that I don’t mean to ignore trans boys.  It’s just that WoLF seems to be targeting trans girls and women specifically.)

WoLF’s lawsuit clearly contradicts two of their main stated goals, and they seem to have no clue that this is the case. The home page of their website says: “WoLF is a radical feminist organization dedicated to the total liberation of women. We fight to end male violence, regain reproductive sovereignty, and ultimately dismantle the gender-caste system.” The total liberation of women has to include ALL women, not just the ones who look a certain way. Dismantling the gender-caste system (a laudable goal) has to mean completely dismantling, so that no gender is discriminated against.

Why should we settle for anything less?


It’s a great song:


Filed under health and healing, human rights, nature, politics, sexuality

Not Left or Right but Up: The “Undivine Comedy” and Our Comedy of Errors

In 1833, the young poet and playwright Zygmunt Krasiński penned Nie-Boska Komedia, the “Undivine Comedy,” which is still an icon of Polish literature.  Krasiński was a one-percenter who was acutely aware that things could not go on as they were in his intensely inequitable society. In the play, the fed-up 99%, led by the charismatic but cruel and unbalanced Pankracy, rises against the ruling class. Count Henryk, a character who has much in common with the author, is the central figure on the aristocrats’ side.

An apocalyptic battle ensues, taking place in a Dantesque, fantastical setting that could not be fully realized on a physical stage at the time. Henryk and his cohorts represent a tradition that has fallen away from its noble ideals and become vain and selfish. The revolutionaries are an unsavory rabble who espouse justice and equality, but are willing to destroy everyone and everything in their way. Neither side is worthy to lead the country into the future.

In the end, the revolutionary forces win the battle, Henryk dies, and Pankracy orders the execution of the remaining aristocrats. Suddenly he is overtaken by a brilliant vision of Christ, so brilliant that it paralyzes him and blinds him to all else. In the vision, the clearly displeased Christ is leaning on his cross as if on a sword, and lightning flashes from his crown of thorns. Pankracy cries out “Galileae vicisti!” (“Galilean, you have won!”) and drops dead on the spot. The end.

When I first read a translation, many years ago, I thought it was the most facile, brainless deus ex machina ending anyone could ever have come up with. Krasiński was only 21 at the time, I thought, and he was trying to deal with hopelessly intractable social problems; he must have just thrown up his hands and walked away. I couldn’t get this crazy, surreal story out of my mind, though. Eventually it percolated through my head long enough that Krasiński’s insight got through to me.

You may have figured this out a lot faster than I did. Krasiński was saying that humans cannot mend the injustices in their world through conflict, and that no human point of view is entirely right or deserving of victory. Only a spiritual awakening can bring about the needed transformation, and that can only happen within the individual.

Well. Obviously we are not there yet. It’s going to be a while before enlightenment strikes every human heart.

Krasiński wrote in a time of fundamental dissolution and transition. Poland had been obliterated as a nation by the Russians, and many of his compatriots had emigrated to form a sort of country in exile, rather as has happened with Tibet under Chinese rule. Poland had been in shaky positions before, but now it had officially ceased to exist. It must have seemed as if nothing could ever be normal again. Yet Romantic-period sensibilities included a robust belief that a utopian world could be created (at least on a small scale), along with a willingness to imagine the wildest of possibilities. We are not there, either. We are cynical and disillusioned and far beyond the naivety of the 19th century.

Despite his pessimistic portrayal of Henryk and his followers, Krasiński held to the view that an educated, cultured elite, steeped in old-fashioned values and Christian ideals, would be best suited to run society. He was bitterly opposed to the Tsar’s regime, but also opposed to radicalism and insurgency. He distrusted the disorderly mass of the 99%, preferring at least the possibility of a redeemed 1%.

In this dark moment we have our own kind of Pankracy, an uncouth, uncontrolled pseudo-revolutionary who claims (falsely!) to be an outsider and populist, and who has already succeeded in blowing apart longstanding power structures. On the other side we have an establishment figure who embodies the American version of aristocracy. Those of us who identify with the educated and cultured elite are horrified that anyone would even momentarily choose the former. We are appalled at his utter disregard for civility and for reality itself. Like Krasiński, we would much rather have one of our own in charge, someone with solid intelligence and broad knowledge of the world. But as in his time, hallowed power structures have become calcified and disconnected from the ideals they were originally intended to serve, and we no longer trust those who have found success within them, no matter how competent they show themselves to be.  So we have widespread frustration and discontent.

We find ourselves watching a drama as lurid as anything the Romantics dreamed up, rapt and hypnotized, unable to tear ourselves away. The only path out of this, I think, is not left or right but up. Awakening is the only possible solution to the national nightmare. And it is most difficult to achieve, requiring us to pull the beams from our own eyes when we would rather pay attention to the motes in the eyes of others.

May all our eyes open.


Here is a quick overview of Krasiński’s career:


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Filed under history, mythology and metaphor, politics, spirituality

Talking with Chopin About Music and Possibilities

Nokturn by Jerzy Głuszek

For years I have been collecting the helpful, fascinating and sometimes perplexing thoughts on music that I’ve received from my currently solidity-challenged composer friend. Every time I’ve gotten close to putting it all together in a nicely packaged presentation, more has come along, and I’ve delayed trying to finish it. My understanding has also changed over time, so that I’ve had to rewrite some sections. I’m thinking that I’d better start sticking the individual bits into some posts or they will never see the light of day.

A lot of what I’ve learned has been specifically about playing the piano and about performance practice, and unlikely to be of much interest to the non-pianist reader. I’ll put that material in another post. Today’s entries are more generally about music and about how it relates to other aspects of our lives, though there is still some nerd stuff.



[A friend who has since died] indicated, while I was doing acupuncture for her, that something major in her life was “disgusting.” I was getting signals of disagreement from our Sources about that, being told that it was necessary for her to integrate this part of her life and deal with it quite differently. Fryderyk was coming in strongly at my right, and I asked what he wanted to say. I saw a vibrating column of light, and the ideas associated with it were like this:

Everything is a vibration, a frequency. And what is a frequency? It’s a note. There are not good notes or bad notes, there are just notes. It’s a matter of how they’re put together. In your case, he had me tell her, you’re in the middle of playing a piece that’s already been written, maybe even near the end of it, but you can still improvise. And if you don’t like this piece, play something else.
10/26/10, after returning from a trip to Poland and across Europe to France during Chopin’s 200th birthday year:

A while back, I think in early September, I asked Fryderyk about that pesky measure on the second page of the D flat nocturne, Op. 27 No. 2, where suddenly the left hand adds an extra voice. I’m talking about measure 23, where we find an F and an E marked with extra stems with eighth note bars. The “Paderewski” edition notes say that he implied that something similar was going on in the few measures before and after this, but there is no evidence for this that I can see. My understanding from him is that he meant this notation only in this one measure; he was not saying to do the same thing in other parts of this passage. However, I’m still not entirely clear why he brings in that extra voice.

I couldn’t get a very good reading on this matter, but there was something like “adding an extra dimension” or “making it 3D.” He told me that there were other similar instances later in the piece. I was directed to look at the last page. I was in bed at the time, ready to go to sleep, so I didn’t go to check out the page till the next day.

What I noticed then was measures 64 and 68, in which he makes a dotted quarter note out of the first D flat in each arpeggio pattern. This appears superfluous, since the pedal is held and those notes will sound all the way through the pattern anyway. He seems to want extra emphasis on these notes. It’s all the more perplexing because, as Jeff Kallberg [musicologist and expert on Chopin’s work] pointed out, the different manuscripts have the dotted quarter notes or not, or have the dot in measure 64 but not 68.

When I next had the chance to communicate with my disembodied teacher, I dutifully reported that I had looked through the rest of the piece for instances of extra voices coming in temporarily, and that I had found the above. I heard, “If you point out something to someone, they will then start seeing it everywhere,” which was objectively true but didn’t seem very helpful or significant! Attempting to understand the dotted quarters, I held an image of measures 64 and 68 in my mind, and there was an interesting visual effect. The notes became literally 3D; the dotted quarters moved to the front of the image, and others took places in two other layers before my mental eyes. I felt that I did have a certain understanding of what he was after. Sort of. (Later, when I had a chance to experiment at the piano, I found it was pretty easy to bring those bass notes forward or push them a layer or two back, and it does add contrast compared with similar figures in other parts of the piece.)

I apologized for bothering him about such a picky detail. “Since you took the trouble to write it that way, I figure it’s important, and I want to understand it,” I explained.

His reply was something I would like us all to keep in mind, and wish I could convey to the folks who are selling Chopin pencils, Chopin chocolates, tours of his birthplace, etc. etc. Imagine a kind of sigh of resignation along with this statement:

“Not everything I do is important.”

I found this hilarious.

I had another question, having to do with my efforts to memorize some of the pieces of his that I’d been playing for years. To me, a lot of the ornaments and fioriture are surprising, in that one might expect that the ornamental stuff would get more intense and complex as the piece goes on, and it doesn’t necessarily do that. The seemingly random nature of these bits makes memorization more difficult, at least for the likes of me. Which way did he do it this time?? It’s so unpredictable.

The answer to this was so obvious that I should have seen it myself. He didn’t want to be predictable. He wanted to surprise us and keep us guessing, keep our ears and fingers engaged.


I had begun this conversation asking for his advice and assistance in treating a mutual friend. We had had considerable trouble working with her before; although she had gotten considerable improvement in some areas, treatments were strangely hard on her. The last time we had done a session, we had tried something different, and instead of her being ill for a while afterward, I was. I felt we needed a new strategy. Fryderyk told me, “Let go of obstacles.”  I thought that was interesting because we don’t think of obstacles as something we hang on to.  Yet I know I do that. That measure in 27/2 with the 48 notes in the right hand is probably a good example. It’s easy to hang on to the idea of its being difficult, whereas perhaps we could hold the thought of making it easy and fluid instead.

“Let go of wanting to prove yourself” was another thought that came up. Not easy either.
[unknown date]

The 48-note fioritura in 27/2 is a particular bête noire for me and I’m sure for a lot of other players. At one point, terminally frustrated with such things, I asked Fryderyk what made him decide on 48 notes or 17 or 23 or whatever strange number comes up in those passages, which can be so inconvenient to play, since they usually don’t match up mathematically with the other hand’s part.  He showed me a curving ribbon shape that represented the musical line as it existed in time and space. The number of notes given exactly filled up the length of the ribbon. So there were exactly as many notes as were needed, no more and no less. Just enough. Obvious to him!



One of the things I’m enjoying about the lute practice [for my album of Polish Renaissance pieces] is that, even though it’s one of my “Chopin Year” projects, it has nothing to do with him whatsoever, and I can have it all to myself!  I got to wondering, though, whether Fryderyk might be familiar with any of those old Polish tunes.  I was thinking that back then they tended to be involved with mostly the music of their own time or not too long before, and that most people were not even paying attention to Bach or works of his time, let alone anything earlier, so the Renaissance and early Baroque tunes probably weren’t on their radar.  The response I received to my question about this sounded a bit miffed.  After all, he had gone to school, he pointed out.  The Warsaw Conservatory had copies of works like this in its library, and he had been able to explore them that way, and for heaven’s sake, did I think he wasn’t educated?

No, of course I didn’t think that, and the image of him leafing through dusty old copies made a pleasing connection for me.  “Oh, I used to love poking around stuff like that in the libraries at YSU and UNM!” I enthused.

I asked whether one heard folk music much in the city, or if one had to go out to the country to experience it.  I was given to know that this was also a fairly dumb question, because people from the city spent time in the country and vice-versa, like the young country gentlemen who roomed with his family, so the same people might often be found in both places.  I kept my mouth shut about the fact that the downtrodden peasants didn’t get a chance to go much of anywhere.  My question was not really so dumb!

I was trying to ask whether there were written sources of folk music around, or whether he learned that stuff by ear, when I fell asleep.

When I woke up this morning, it occurred to me that young Fryc would have been quite unable to read any lute tablature that might have been lying around at the Conservatory. However, he may well have tried some organ tablature and so become acquainted with composers such as Jan of Lublin.  I’d like more details.



Last night Fryderyk visited when I was about to go to sleep. I told him that I was trying to prepare a mini-recital for a friend and that things hadn’t been going too well that evening. “New things keep going wrong all the time!” I complained. “I can’t take care of my mistakes because they’re so inconsistent and I never know what’s going to happen.”

Well, at least this time he didn’t hand me the usual “You’re looking at this all wrong” or “You’re asking the wrong question.” He began with a clear sentence in his bumpy sort of English, but I can’t recall it– I knew I’d kick myself in the morning if I didn’t get out of bed and write down his exact words, since I was getting a definite verbal message, but I decided to stay where I was. He told me that of course new things keep happening, because a piece of music has so many possibilities within it. He showed me something similar to what he’d conveyed sometime last year, which I described in my post “Wait. Show Up. Enjoy.”   A piece of music is a kind of three-dimensional environment in which one can live and move about. (Yes, time does add a fourth dimension, but the image is three-dimensional.) I saw myself in the center of this matrix, with threads spreading out in all directions.

He seemed excited about this field of possibilities. Wow, you can do anything you want! I, in contrast, felt rather small in the midst of it all. He spoke encouragingly, something to the effect that I should tug and pull on those threads to shape the music the way I wanted it to be.

He faded out. I went to sleep.

What Fryderyk described was not so much the way I’ve been experiencing music, but definitely similar to the way I’ve been experiencing the ground of reality itself. Which may well have been part of what he was talking about. His messages, even when they sound painfully obvious and simple at first, do tend to generalize to many aspects of my life.

This morning I was looking at an article by Jeff Kallberg in the book Mary-Rose [Douglas] gave me for Christmas. It concerned a newly-discovered copy of the first edition of the Op. 9 nocturnes, which Chopin had annotated for a student, adding dramatically different ornamentation to 9/2. “We can now securely assert,” Jeff wrote, “that Chopin began modifying the ornaments in this work shortly after its publication….”

Yup, that’s our Fryc. So many possibilities, and he wants them all to be available.


On 8/2/14, I was asking Fryderyk about a pedaling question; I’m not sure what the piece was. I received these words:

“You are making the supposition that I have written a symbol which is absolute. You are looking for the sound of words on a page. Words are not sounds and symbols are not music.”



A great fan of Chopin and expert on his life expressed the thought that he did most of his composing on paper, not at the piano. It was her belief that even when he first began to work out his ideas, he did so away from the piano.

This is not what is generally believed about Chopin’s creative method. As soon as I could, I asked him what he might have to say about the matter. When he was beginning to put a piece together, did he start with the piano, or with a pen? He told me clearly: “Sound. Sound is primary. It doesn’t matter how you get there.” Apparently I was asking the wrong question again. He added, “Sound comes from the inner being.”

Wanting to be completely clear, I tried once more to ask how he started, and he added: “Exploring sound. Sound, not thought.” Which does imply starting with an instrument, I would think, not inside one’s head.

Since the words were definite and exact, I wanted to be sure to catch them verbatim, and I stopped to write them down. Unfortunately, after that I could not get back into the channeling state and was unable to hear any more. Research continues.


See more fantastic Chopin cartoon portraits at

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