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Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Instrument Of The Immortals

It’s, a Steinway vertical, the “professional” model, taller, with longer strings than a spinet, and three pedals, like a grand. It has a satin finish, each of its five coats of black lacquer applied and then rubbed in turn with fine steel wool, producing a sheen rather than a hard shine, the elegance of a top hat. It’s an aristocrat, born with a patina and a name. It bears, in fact, the autograph of John Steinway — now seventy-two, great-grandson of the founder — on the rear right-hand corner under the lid, in magic marker.


What Miss Lena Prays For

Miss Lena goes into the dressing room, closes the folding three-way mirror, gets down on her knees, and prays. I wonder if she’s really praying for customers, as she tells me, or if she’s praying for bigger things, like peace in Yugoslavia, where she is from and which she calls Yugo, or maybe an end to homelessness. It seems to me you shouldn’t waste a prayer on attracting customers.


The Mayfly Glimmer Before Last Call

Jackie was nineteen, a cocktail waitress in Niagara Falls, New York. She worked in a bar on the other side of town and would come into our place with the other waitresses after her shift was up. Jackie was something else, the way she shook her hair. She had a face that you immediately liked and wanted to examine closely and maybe figure out what it was that made it so nice. I’d invariably flub her order, come up a drink short, forget to put amaretto in her slammer, grenadine in her sunrise. I failed her because I wanted to please her. She tipped me anyway — she made her living on tips, couldn’t not tip me — but tipped me with disdain, as if I were a leper on a pleasure cruise hanging out by the shuffleboard courts selling fake Hawaiian jewelry.

The Sun Interview

Saving The Indigenous Soul

An Interview With Martín Prechtel

For the majority of human history, shamans have simply been a part of ordinary life. They exist all over the world. It seems strange to Westerners now because they have systematically devalued the other world and no longer deal with it as part of their everyday lives.

The Sun Interview

The Myth Of Therapy

An Interview With James Hillman

I believe the soul is always attuned to the geographical, or ecological, world. Where you are is as important as where you came from. What you do every day is as important to the soul, to the revelation of the soul, as what your parents did to you, or what you were like when you were five, or ten. We don’t generally subscribe to such notions, not really; instead, we emphasize the notion of individual career, personal biography. This notion is faulty because it’s too singular to begin with. We could fault this model of the self even further. But it’s hard to sit here and imagine other models. Do you see what I mean? It’s hard to shift to an emphasis on the end of life, or to the social, geographical context of life, to the “you” who is what you do, to the “you” that you create with every move. Now, that would be a Zen thing, wouldn’t it? Every move you make, every bite you eat, every word you say, is inventing yourself. We think the soul is already made by what happened early on, and we’re always trying to fix it, to adjust it.



For a Catholic kid, there was nothing good about Good Friday. From dawn to dusk, we had to fast on toast and tea, and then, when we were good and starving, we had to choke down a bowl of my mom’s fish stew. We couldn’t cut loose or even watch TV. We were supposed to mope around looking glum. We spent the entire afternoon in church.


The Blue Devils Of Blue River Avenue

Whether I was at the Sambeauxs’ or the Millers’ or the Carrs’, or just out in the street with my little buddies, it was always the same. They were like hothouse tomatoes pushing hard for what they thought was the light. We would hide in a bush, or cluster in the treehouse, or lean back among the interstices of the towering, ragged, catwalk hedge, and the topic would invariably arise, spelled out in red letters above our heads: S-E-X.

The Sun Interview

The Prayer Of The Body

An Interview With Stephen R. Schwartz

I’d been melancholy for weeks, dogged by feelings I couldn’t name. Then my wife went out of town; I didn’t want her to go. You might say I was ready for a good cry. Yet how tempting to ignore sorrow, as if it were a beggar. Those dark, accusing eyes.