Sunday, February 25, 2007


It was forty years after my time in that small New Hampshire boarding school in the New Hampshire lake country, where I learned that I was not stupid, where I had become a champion of sorts, discovered literature, and was feeling what might come even in music and art. All in this place of harsh rules and sometime gentle Georgian buildings where I was also moving into Socialist politics that seemed an answer for the world to the sort of cruel exclusivity I had known in the Eastern establishment into which I had been born.

It was also forty years after summers in New Hampshire's White Mountains - rich summer houses in stark, self-consciously upper class houses set in bare bones but sweeping landscapes where time was frozen. Outside those houses, and right in those landscapes, I had escaped my fate and became an almost happy teenager.

And since then, forty years of adventure in five continents that included four wars, and in multiple relationships that included two marriage. And now I had a problem.

I wasn't a teacher. I'd never even considered the academic life. But I was just divorced again, and the money was all gone, and I had stopped writing, and no money was coming in. I had to do something. Anything to keep life moving. I lived now in a bright and airy, recently purchased, heavily mortgaged, mountain-view house on the edge of the colorful Catskills village of Woodstock, New York. Woodstock, this eccentric place of writing and music and art - sort of like an ideal college town should be. And with the added advantage of having no college in it.

It's also a place with not many ways to make money - and so in my current situation, this lack of a college was also, for the fi
rst time, a disadvantage,since it meant one less source of jobs.

So I decided to journey north to a more raw place - the English department of a small community college - low, prefabricated buildings set in a stark and grand northern Catskills area that had once, way back, been marginal farm country. Later it had had a run as a somewhat prosperous summer resort place. That had ended too. And by now it was as impoverished and bleak as some of the New Hampshire landscapes of my youth. Farmland fallow. Tourist places outdated, dying, deserted - like old New Hampshire.

The English Department chairperson at the Catskills community college looked like someone who had survived it all - tough, gray, ageless, wiry. She was so glad to see me, she said. And wasn't it awful what had happened?

I thought she was referring to the increasing poverty of these lovely but sad and desecrated upstate New York counties her college served (even, somehow, to my own sudden, dangerous poverty and indebtedness).

But it turned out she meant that what was awful was the low quality, everywhere, she said, of present-day young people.

We got my credentials out of the way quickly. I was qualified, it turned out, because recently, pursuing a midlife interest in theology, I had received a masters degree cleverly disguised by a branch of the Boston College theology department to look like a degree in education.

Then we got on to more immediate matters.

"Kids today are different," she said. "Nobody knows the basics."

She was talking about her specialty courses, English 101 and English 102, both of which entail much student writing. But her students just did not want to write, she said. Too lazy and too unskilled. In desperation she had even asked them to write about what interested them. They had done so, and she had had to flunk some of them anyway, including a boy whose interests were, of all things, girls and football.

She had to flunk them because, who cares about young people's self-serving, self-pitying memories?

Then she started talking in a foreign language: "Would you believe," she said, "that young people today don't know the difference between description and narrative?"

I knew the words "narrative" and "description" but had no idea what this woman thought the difference was supposed to be. I knew it could be fatal to writing if you tried to make such a distinction. I was aware, from my own writing, of how a narrative could be propelled by description, and of how a narrative without description would be generalized nonsense. I knew she was talking nonsense - as bad here in this little community college as in the boozy fake-Gothic place there I had endured my own college years. Awful, destructive nonsense. But I tried to look solemn. I actually raised an eyebrow. I shook my head in sadness.

"And do you know," she said, "that I hardly see an entering student who can tell the difference between a causal essay and a process essay?"

I put on a look of even deeper sorrow, and said, "This is terrible."

And I was pretty sure I had the job.

At this time I had just begun the Authentic Writing workshops with a weekly group meeting in Woodstock. And I was thinking a lot about an English teacher in boarding school who had brought me into literature. I was also thinking of how English professors at Princeton hated literature.

And then it turned out that the actual setting for what I had not told the chairperson was my first teaching job was as foreign to me as that mysterious stuff about causal and process essays. I was to teach an accelerated freshman college English course to 17-year-olds inside something called the Cairo-Durham (pronounced Cay-row-Durham) Central High School.

Three times a week, so early the class would be over by 8 a.m.

Not only had I never been a teacher before this, college or otherwise, I had never attended a public high school.

I went to look at the place. It was a dark, snaking, one-story brick building. It had almost no windows, although it was set high on a hill with what could have been a 360-degree panoramic view of fields and woods and mountains - a hill rising from a village made up of rustic rural bars, all of which had shamrocks on their signs.

These fields and hills and woods and mountains, though not the shamrock bars, so like New Hampshire 40 years back, before I had given up such countryside in favor of, until Woodstock, big, mostly foreign, cities and war zones.

When I was a teenager and in New Hampshire I had not seen such landscape this directly. I had looked out at southern New Hampshire from the protected grounds of that old-line, Anglophile all-boys boarding school. In the summers in northern New Hampshire I had looked out at it from the protected grounds of the formal summer mountain houses, especially the big house called White Pines,
owned by "our kind of people."

Now here I was in the northern Catskills, so many years later, not looking out at such a landscape but actually in it.

I drove up to the college bookstore with my now best friend Claude the dog, a low-to-the-ground, adolescent basset-terrier-sheep dog. Claude and I now lived alone in my big mountain-view house that the bank wanted back.

I drove up through the northern Catskills thinking of how when deep in the past when I'd been in such countryside I'd been an adolescent and my life had seemed worthless, desperate - without hope - until - away from home - that remarkable English teacher saw what other teachers and my Connecticut family had missed - and books and writing saved my life - and the world opened for me.

And now, by quirk of fortune, I was myself about to be an English teacher. It was something that had never been in dreams, but I had a clear starting point.

Saturday, February 24, 2007



It was fifty years before I recovered from the summer camp they sent met to in 1943 -­ sadistic counselors who always had wet towel ready, a long line to the toilet each morning and the toilet would be inspected after you left and if you left nothing there it meant punishment -­ those wet towels that felt like rawhide. And they all made fun of me, not just the counselors, only one little fat boy getting it worse than me, and the place where we swam had bloodsuckers in it and you were not considered a manly 8-year-old man if you were upset that these creatures bit into you and hung on sucking your blood. And I was so afraid when I got sick that they would discover I was sick and I would be taken to the owner's house, which was the most fearsome place of all, the big dark house of Mr. and Mrs. Waddell, founders and proprietors of Camp Saugatuck, so fearsome that I bluffed it even though my throat was so raw it stung whether I swallowed or not, stung to the point were there was not much left of me except the pain, and my head felt like it was bursting, and I could forget where I was, I was so overcome by the waves of blackness and shivering. And I did something I could not understand. I sucked in my cheeks and bit down so hard it was like raw hamburger meat.

In the first 20 years afterwards I was not conscious I had ever thought about Camp Saugatuck. It did not come to life again it until a time I returned to America from Greece, leaving my girl there, convinced that my life was not, as I had thought in recent years, full now of companionship and adventure, but instead had been a trivial and false romantic construction. Even this lasts time, pausing for months in Slovenia and then Greece and then Africa the breadth of the continent, through the Western Sudan, Darfur, traveling in a shaky army convoy, so proud that no one had crossed Africa this way. A German guy had done part of it, overland, but he¹d turned back in Darfur, missed the Chad part -­ men with spears on the market trucks that wove through giant trees in the sand, and not even a hardy German had had anything like my experiences there and in the revolution in Angola, and on the Norwegian freighter from Luanda where I worked my way back to Europe and Greece, and then those books I wrote in Slovenia and Greece before and after Africa, novels that I'd thought would have a chance, but I had been dreaming, and now I was back, and I was staying in a family place, my grandmother's place on the Upper East Side - there and in the cramped little Connecticut house my parents had moved to which was like one little room, and no one cared about my adventures - not my family, and I did not trust my friends. The only thing everyone was sure to notice was how thin I was, which seemed to smack of my irresponsibility, and I had left my girlfriend in Athens, convinced that there was no such thing as romantic love -­ and now for the first and only time since burning with fever and shivering from chills at Camp Saugatuck I made it even worse, now in New York on a daybed in what would have been my grandfather's study (his Pulitzer prize certificate hung there)­ if he had lived, the place now making me feel as exposed as in the place with the leeches. I at four in the morning on a daybed in the study I sucked in my cheeks, as I had done back then, so that I could hold them from the inside with my back teeth, and I ground my teeth and pressed down and ground some more until the inside of my mouth felt like raw hamburger meat, and there was nothing left but physical pain.

And no one knew about this -­ either about the Camp Saugatuck version or the family place version twenty years later.

As I wrote I remembered, and knew that if I did not write it or paint it or sing it I would forever be by the bloodsucker pool, with a high fever and hiding form the Waddells - either there or in an old family place.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


Last night I dreamt that I was on a stage, a theater, a 4th Street theater, either the Red Room or the Kraine, a stage that was familiar but also new to me, as it is in life, new and familiar, these places where Suzanne bases her theater company, and where in collaboration with her company we have been staging Authentic Writing performance events -­ also where, in life, as I know in the dream, there will be two openings this year of shows that came out of what their authors did in our workshops. In the dream I am at first talking with Suzanne, something to do with something I could do in connection with whatever they are doing. Something I could create and put on here. Then she leaves me alone. Leaves me alone so I can come up with ideas, or maybe leaves me alone because she has no faith I will have ideas but is willing to indulge me in my desire to use the space.

So now I am alone in the dark on the stage. There are lights in the theater, for work is in progress there, cleaning work and renovation work, but the curtain is down and so I can just barely see where I am. I can just barely see but there is plenty of light for what I need. I am imagining myself on this stage doing something before an audience. And there is music coming up, music in my head that accompanies me as I stride about, make sweeping gestures -­ but for what? I have no idea what ­though I know there is something in the same way that sometimes when I sit down to write I have no idea of what to write but faith that there is something of substance waiting.

Someone knocks on a post beside the curtain to see if anyone is here, then pulls the curtain back and steps in. It is one of the people working in the theater. He is surprised anyone is here. But he does not seem at all surprised so see I have undressed and am wrapped in a sheet, like in a toga. He says excuse me, picks up a small table, and leaves. Clearly to him everything here is quite normal.

I am striding about again, in my normal clothes now, looking in different directions, making gestures, hearing the music, and although it is still silent
here I am singing away in my head to the music that is in my head, words and music while I move about the stage, pushing something ahead, though I do not know yet what it is.

I am alone after I leave the theater. This does not surprise me since in dreams I am always alone. For a moment I am speaking with my friend Lucy whom I sometimes, in this dream version, meet for dinner in the city before I return to Woodstock just I did a couple of times years ago in waking life. She tells me now that she can't meet me this way any longer before my 100-mile trip because Manhattan is a 20-minute subway ride away from her place in Brooklyn and so she would get home too late.

I wake up in Woodstock, excited about this show I am about to do. I am unconcerned about Lucy. I have been in a nether world between sleeping and waking. I know the theater as a real theater, just as I know when I am awake. I know I live in Woodstock and I will continue to come back here. I know I have worked with Suzanne and will work with her again. Know this when awake as well as when dreaming. I have had dinner in the city in the past with Lucy. It is usual for me to travel a hundred mile at night from the city to Woodstock, where I am happy to live. None of this is dream. But the lack of anyone else in my life in pure dream world.

And now I wake up and this thing I am trying to get to as I stride about the stage, moving to interior music, singing and ready to speak the lines I know will come for this thing I do not know except that I know it is there -­ this thing I knew in the dream was there is suddenly coming into focus. I am awake enough to know I am now in our bed but enough still in what may or may not be a nether world to also know the darkened stage I have just been on. And what is coming is no longer a mystery, as it was while I was striding about that dark stage. So I get up, trying not to wake Marta, and start to write.

Saturday, February 17, 2007


To not write it, nor paint it, nor sing it, is to sit on it, sit on it, sit on it. Is to let it hang there, hang there, hang there. Is to let it block out everything else.

To not write it, I am left looking out through bars in a Spanish jail which I know is Spanish because the ornately uniformed keeper wears the tri-corner hat of Franco's Guardia Civil.

To not write I am left a thousand miles up the Kapuas River in Borneo with a party including a four-foot Ambonese spy, and an irregular soldier with a Tommy gun who shoots chickens for fun and a wiry flunky who rolls our cigarettes, all of us surrounded by grim men in white robes who climb into the stilt house at 3 a.m., wake us on the bamboo floor, turn lantern light on a treasured sacred kris they carry to prove some point.

Without writing, I am left forever behind an open air dance place in a Haitian brothel shack where they put me and one of the girls to lie safely while out under colored lights on the dance floor armed men in Hawaiian shirts spot a student leader, beat him, carry him away

I am left on a dark street in Kuala Lumpur, when a race war is on, knowing there can be snipers at any of the unlit windows and wondering why I put myself here.

Without writing or painting or singing I am forever on the floor of the Murdock¹s Park Avenue apartment where sixth grade classmates cheer as the rich bully I had challenged pins me, pummels me.

Without writing, I can so easily slip through time and land again on the floor at the Murdock's. And here again - as I was down and pinned and he was still hitting me and they were still jeering and cheering - I was even then slipping back still further through other scenes of terror, all the way back to the scene of my first memory which took place on an old steam-driven train headed to New Hampshire, in a Pullman drawing room that smells of whisky with Mother in despair,Grandmother Clark making shouts and gurgles, Peter screaming, as I try to call for help but know in my bones that it is over and no help will come - something I will know again and again and never escape until I write about it. I did not know the smell was whisky until years later it wafted in again when someone opened a bottle in strange circumstances in Angola. I did not know the other smell was human blood until a man on the ground floor of my West 25th Street building was slashed up and down and crosswise.

Friday, February 16, 2007


Sitting in darkness in Manhattan's Kraine Theater – surrounded by music – and in the glow of the stage – music from instruments and voices and the pure music of words – and movement with words as performed – even into dance – and all of it framed in a complex system of visual richness – it took the sound and lighting man many hours to set up the bare stage – and it was now so in order that you never thought it was part of a carefully worked-out scheme – the combination of spontaneity and rehearsal – words and music – song and lightŠ.

Here on this January night of an Authentic Writing SONG AND STORY performance I thought of the deep contempt I had had forty years back when I lived in Anafiotika – which seemed to me the sort of perfect bohemian setting – laughter and retsina and tightly abandoned taverna dancing – as far removed as you could be from things like the family I came from and the silly order of gray Eisenhower America – there in one of these very small white-washed houses perched on the side of the Acropolis – you could look up from the roof and see the Parthenon – a few dollars a month, no heat or indoor plumbing but a view out and over, it seemed, not just Athens but all of Attica, all of the world – not much electricity but unamplified bazuki music by taverna tables set on the steps in the winding lanes, between the white-washed sides of these houses – lanes where what might be pebbles beneath your feet were as likely to be fragments of ancient pottery or Byzantine mosaic....

Here with a lovely girl, Vannie – who painted all day and never wrote – while I, who slept much of the day, never painted but wrote hour after hour all through almost all of the nights....

And we both had such contempt for Dawn from London who could not decide whether she wanted to be a painter or a writer and did neither – or Harold from Hot Springs, Arkansas who had in progress a series of paintings of floating handkerchiefs and wrote poetry that he was proud no one could untangle – or pretty Mary from Dublin who modeled and wanted to act – or Daniel from Chicago who was about ready to give up this life so as to pursue a doctorate in English, or Jason from Queensland, who bragged of his days off the coast of Somalia as, he said, the last of the white dhow skippers – and was now, he said, outlining a poem – to be his first – an epic poem – and thinking too, it seemed, of taking up etching – or Harold Winterbotham from Dorset who knew what he was doing, he said, because every winter he went home and spent three months with his mother in an English village where he realized himself because he always wrote and produced and starred in the village church¹s annual play whereas in Anafiotika he was also an abstract painter – or dim-witted Klaus from Frankfurt who went to Nasser's Egypt and heard things about Jews that made him think his S.S. father might have been right, and now he painted fuzzily – and played a lute.

Such contempt I had, and maybe Vannie did too, for anyone who did not have a serious course and did not follow through – for anyone who could not be one thing or another – could not keep it separate.

A view that I held until my life depended on light and shade and form and line and color – and at another time on sound and movement and song – my life and my writing too.

All whirling around in my mind in this time in the dark in the Kraine Theater where I was suddenly thinking of a time in the deceptively clear light of Greece when I feared mere dilettantism if I could not be simply and solely one thing or another.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Singapore had its beautiful people and its sometimes wild night world but it was a relative place of calm in tropical Southeast Asia of the late l960s, for this was a region that, while appealingly erotic and exotic, had many war zones. Because of the relative calm it was in Singapore that I started what had the feel of a publishable novel. It was set in Bangkok, where I had recently been living, a much wilder place in all ways.

The book, which came out two years later under the title Where Dragons Dwell, drew heavily, almost to the point of being memoir, on what had recently been part of my life in Bangkok, including a just finished love affair with a Thai girl who, among other things, wore gold lamé with flair and sang in night clubs. And it had as a central figure a daring and lovely young American woman, a true Sixties figure, who had arrived in town in the dangerous company of a C.I.A. man who was pretending to be a car salesman. This was the Bangkok of the Vietnam era when it was a camp followers' boomtown overrun with spies and con men of all nations, and American soldiers on "rest and recuperation" from the war, in town for drugs and drink and night world girls – a wildly colorful, sex mad, anything-goes tropical river city of bright palaces and temples right on the fringe of the American Wars in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Night clubs and bars and huge new massage parlors, side by side with old teak houses on languid canals – and always smooth, smiling girls, their bodies often on display in sarongs, and increasingly in strapless night club gowns. And always danger, for almost all the resident foreigners were up to surreptitious activities, like the American girl's recent C.I.A. boyfriend – foreigners working for intelligence agencies and also conducting scam operations such as selling worthless stock and underwater Florida land to American soldiers and to each other. It was not uncommon for one of their number to be assassinated.

In Bangkok I had lived in an airy house built out over the half-mile wide Chao Phya River in Thonbury, across from Thai gunboats and Bangkok's main temples and palaces and the shaded docks for the ornate old royal barges. Just the right setting, I thought, for someone who only needed the right material in order to achieve to literary success.

One night, after I had started writing about Bangkok, I flew from Singapore to the Philippines. Shortly after I landed in Manila I was having dinner in a well-guarded, walled-off compound with two old American friends, Steve, an amusing and extremely intelligent writer with a complex personal life whom I had known in New York, and his wife Berta, who had long sandy hair and was alert and sometimes bohemian.

Steve now edited something called Free World, a slick U.S. government, Manila-based propaganda publication, that looked like a shrunken Life Magazine and went to America's cold war Southeast Asia allies, which were mainly monarchies and military dictatorships. Free World permitted Steve and Berta, to live like rich people in the Philippines, which was fast becoming yet another well-armed dictatorship – meaning Southeast Asia was not very free except in the imagination of Free World Magazine.

Steve and Berta lived like rich people because they were being paid by the State Department at a time the dollar was hugely overvalued, and also they had been given – as a perk for the supposed hardship of living outside America – this big solid house fully staffed with servants.

I was surprised at what I heard myself saying here at their polished mahogany dinner table, servant girls padding around us. I was not talking now about my recent life among the intelligence agents and sex workers in Bangkok , where I had thought of myself as both a pillar and a Boswell. I suddenly was talking instead about a time during World War II when I was nine and my parents had separated (though it was never called that). I talked about how we had all left Connecticut, my father for the city, my mother, my Southern Grandmother Clark and my twin brother Peter and myself, to stay for some undefined period of time at a hotel in Florida that was built around a tile patio with old pieces of eight embedded in it, a place that appeared to be made of found driftwood and was called The Driftwood, a place where everyone was drinking on shaky porches and balconies all the time.

Back there in Florida, I told Steve and Berta, my mother and her mother had quickly lost track of us. For no apparent reason they failed to put us in school. They brought along fourth grade textbooks but forgot to make us use them. Peter did find the textbooks and spent his days studying alone at the hotel, where he was often the only sober living human. Me, I wandered.

I had a small bicycle I rented out to soldiers billeted at a much bigger nearby beach hotel, a white stucco box building across from a ramshackle beachside bar-restaurant called Max's Tavern, where Mother and Grandmother Clark sometimes took us for hamburgers. It was a dark place, smelling of onions and stale beer, with a juke box always playing – "Stars at Night," clap, clap, "Are big and bright," clap, clap, "Deep in the heart of heart of Texas," along with "Praise the lord and pass the ammunition, For we're on a mighty mission...", and also crooner songs by Bing Crosby and a very young "Frankie" Sinatra. Soldiers drank and danced with tanned women who had long, bouncy hair and bright lipstick and sometimes wore only bright colored halters with their shorts or skirts. Along one wall was one of the best things I had ever seen – a row of slot machines. Even better than best, since Mother said this was illegal. "One-armed bandits," said Grandmother Clark, a gambler herself, as she downed a Manhattan cocktail.

Each day after this discovery I went to the back door of Max's with coins I had collected from the soldiers who used my bicycle – along with more coins I got by jiggling the receivers of pay phones I passed (the phone system so badly run in wartime that this was income I could count on). They let me in by the back in daytime so that I could play the slot machines.

Meanwhile, in my wanderings I made friends with a boy dressed in rags who lived in a shack in the orange groves, and sometimes we staged battles with rotten fruit. But mostly I wandered alone.

One day I came out of a dark palm jungle I frequented where I'd seen many reptiles and apparently a wild boar, and often had fearful thoughts of death. And as I emerged on the main road, tanned and freckled, my hair bleached nearly white by the sun and hanging nearly to my shoulders – for, like school, barbers had been forgotten – a convertible stopped and people in bright clothes with cameras got out and took my picture. I was quite sure they thought I was a swamp rat, a colorful, backwoods, forgotten child who lived here alone in the jungle.

Many years later in Southeast Asia when I finally got around to telling other human beings this story, Berta, my hostess in Manila, said, "Fred, this is what you should be writing about."

But I was not swayed from my view that my recent anything-goes time in Bangkok would have far greater appeal than anything in my childhood – as would the subjects of planned future books using, as background, my time underground in Portuguese Angola during Holden Roberto's guerrilla war, or in Borneo and Laos, or Syria and Cyprus, or Haiti and Cuba, or in the hot springs resorts of Taiwan, or right here in Manila outside this heavily guarded Manila compound, out beyond the walls in the nearby cockfight arenas, or in the big brothel-dance halls filled with sleek smooth girls of the night that I was drawn to.

What did Berta know about big exotic worlds? That I should write about that time in mundane Florida! It made me furious.

I was in my early thirties now, which seemed like I was well along in years, but it was another twenty years before I began to know, or dared to know, my deeper stories.

And, although I wrote that novel that was filled with real characters, including the American girl and me, it was another 20 years before I could even write about my time in Bangkok without a certain amount of falsifying, running from what was most real. There were huge gaps in the lives of all the characters as I portrayed them. It was years before my writing got deeply into the only context that counts, the context of concrete reality in the writer's own life and times and stories, the context of the writer's self.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I had never had so much attention. I had  the whole backseat to myself. I lay on it, wrapped in blankets. My twin, who usually got the attention because of his cute sayings and his precocious ability to read, – my twin Peter, good little Peter, was not in the car. It was just Mother and Dad, driving me down the Merrit Parkway, and through a covered area, then into the open again, then past the George Washington Bridge, which I saw as if for the first time, looking up now from where I lay, though this was not my first trip into the city. We sometimes drove in for dinner at the house of Gaga and Nana, Dad's parents. But this time I was being taken, but they didn't say "taken" they said "rushed", – to a hospital where we were to be met by my celebrated grandfather's old friend Dr. Harry Lorbar, – a Jew, they always pointed out from Gaga's  long ago days working among the poor.  And Dr. Lorbar was waiting there a relaxed, fat, smiling old man with a fleshy face and eyes that made me think he was happy – there at the very hospital where I'd been born – Beth Israel – so funny, they said, that any of us would be born in a hospital with such a name – but after all, they said, these are the best doctors.

They kept debating about whether to take out my appendix. Dr. Lorbar would bring in a half a dozen other old doctors who would stand around my bed debating the situation. The room smelled like a flower garden. Dr. Lorbar told his nurses that this was Ernest Poole's grandson, and order them to go around other rooms and confiscate flowers that had been give to other sick people.

When they decided not to operate they put some sort of drug into me. They put it way under my skin, not through a needle in the arm but two needles stuck deep into the fleshy part of my chest. In later years I would not let anyone touch my chest. I could not. It was decades before I let any woman in my bed touch me on the chest.

But the physical part was not the whole story. There was all this attention. Gaga and Nana came every day, and so too did Dad even though he was working hard. And always Mother.

I practically had Mother to myself.

Gaga was the center of attention. As they sat in my room he told what they said was a funny joke and they laughed furiously at it. "You can lead a whore to culture," Gaga said, chuckling. "But you can't make her drink." They would not tell me what it was that was funny, just that "whore" meant a woman who was not nice. Several years later I got into deep trouble for calling my mother a whore when all I meant was that she was not being nice.

They were always bringing me gifts. Mother always had something. Little Scotty dogs on magnets. A ball of crepe paper that revealed tiny objects -- – a rubber ball, a plastic cat figure -- – as you unraveled it. And best of all, a button to pin to my pajamas. It was like one of those buttons they had worn for an election, except that it was bigger and it was all white – or so it seemed until they turned off the lights to leave and then it glowed, a happy light green in the dark. I had never liked anything so much.

That was the last of the hospital gifts that I remembered. Mother came in like always one night. I asked her for my present. She exploded. No present. She leaned over the bed hissing at me, telling me I was the worst person – selfish, thoughtless, lazy, dirty – and it made life awful for her.

For the next eight years – not all dark years though some were – I knew my life had been in two distinct and separate parts. Before Mother told me who I was, and afterwards.

Sunday, February 11, 2007


My name is Fred Poole. Most of my life I earned my living by writing. In 1993 I founded the Authentic Writing workshops, which are devoted to actual writing from actual life.

I was joined by my now wife, the writer Marta Szabo, and together we always have programs in progress in New York City and in Woodstock, NY, and we spread out to other places as near as New England and as far away as Italy.

Authentic Writing is a movement that celebrates and propagates writing as an art. In this movement, we war against mere criticism and safe academic writing systems.

Our allies are expansive artists who know that in order to practice their art they must go deep inside themselves. Sometimes these allies are other writers. Often they are actors and dancers, painters, sculptors and photographers, musicians, singers and composers, people who work in film and video.

Together we have the courage to go after our own versions of reality in the face of pressure to follow false versions imposed and enforced by political or religious or military or literary and other art establishment dictators or by the cult of family.

Marta points out that we do not conduct writing classes. We manage a writers' studio. Much of what she does in this studio can be seen at And much of what I do can be read right here in this new blog of my own - along with scenes and thoughts, including calls to arms, concerning our movement.