Tuesday, April 30, 2024


I did finish reading Burn Book, by Kara Swisher, but I don't think that it merits much discussion. Swisher has covered the tech industry in the U.S. as a journalist since the 1990's, and while the book does contain some autobiographical elements, it primarily describes her career in journalism, and, in particular, her experiences with various tech billionaires over the years. Her assessments seemed relatively accurate to me, given what little I know about them, but this doesn't come across as a profound analysis. For example, she noticed that Mark Zuckerberg has an anxiety disorder, and that he needed the assistance that he got from Sheryl Sandberg, but that was the extent of her commentary. Obviously, Bill Gates is autistic, but she doesn't come out and say it. She liked Steve Jobs mainly because she empathized with his childhood trauma: he had been adopted, and, in her case, her father had died while she was young. She says almost nothing about the way in which Jobs differed from other tech billionaires: he was motivated by aesthetic sensibilities more than technology. For unknown reasons, she never mentions either Steve Wozniak or Paul Allen. Because she worked with Rupert Murdoch, she knows him well and has nothing positive to say about him, as you might expect. She also got to know Elon Musk fairly well, but I didn't find her discussion of him particularly illuminating. What it comes down to is that most of the successful people in the tech industry are highly competitive, ruthless males – the sort of people with whom I wouldn't want to associate. For the most part, she presents herself as a responsible, hard-hitting journalist who also happens to be a lesbian, and who has won respect for her reporting. Obviously, although this is supposed to be a revealing book, neither Swisher nor Simon & Schuster wanted to be sued simultaneously by several billionaires. Without the risk of lawsuits, it could have been much more informative. For what it is, it isn't bad, but you also have to allow for the fact that it was written to be a bestseller – which it is. Swisher is capitalizing on her exposure to the tech billionaires.

On April 19 I visited my old neighborhood again. Dorothy Douglas was outside tending her lawn. She had bruises around her eyes and a bandage over her nose. She said that she fell down in town, hit the sidewalk and broke her nose. Although she still seems energetic, I think she has health problems. She is never talkative, so I didn't stay long. I stopped by the house of Fred and his wife, Darlyn, again. There were more windstorms over the winter, but my new neighborhood wasn't affected much. However, there were extremely high winds in Fred's neighborhood and more wind damage than ever. One of Fred's sheds was blown into the woods. Many trees behind his house were blown over. At my former home next door, the blue spruce in the front yard was blown down, and it looked as if a window had cracked. Fred said that they had roof repairs from wind damage. Along South Munger Street and Quarry Road, several trees were blown over or had their tops blown off. According to Fred, the winds at the nearby airport were over ninety miles per hour.

I am well under way in my preparations for warmer weather. I've created a vegetable bed behind the back porch for tomatoes. The soil looked pretty bad – lots of clay – so I added a layer of gardening soil and compost to the top. I'm having a hard time getting my old tomato seeds to germinate. Usually they come up quickly, but so far I have only one. If at least three more don't come up, I will buy plants from a nursery. A change in seed storage may have caused the problem. My old telescope is set up, and it had an electrical malfunction that now seems to be fixed. The house has several overhangs on the roof that attract birds. There is now a robin nest high up near the top and an eastern phoebe nest above the screen door on the back porch. They could be returning birds, because there was an eastern phoebe nest last year and a robin nest in a shrub next to the house. I'm no longer feeding the birds now, so there aren't as many goldfinches around, but I will be putting up my hummingbird feeder soon. I think I heard one the other day – they can be quite loud. I now regularly feed stale bread pieces to the squirrels, and they seem to like it.

Saturday, April 13, 2024


Spring is here in earnest, and, consequently, I'm going through my annual behavioral changes. The winter was very warm – it barely got down to zero just once – and there was little snow until the very end. I got one foot one day and seven inches a few days later. The new snow blower came with a couple of defects, but overall it is easier to operate than the old one. I've already put it away for the year, and the tractor is ready to go. The yard here is completely different from the one in Middlebury. It was planned and maintained by one person, the woman from whom I bought the property, from 2000 to 2023. It is flat, with well-maintained borders and beds. Since there are more rocks and boulders here than in Middlebury, the perimeter of the yard is a row of rocks, and one large boulder was left in a bed. The flower beds have fruit trees and perennials, which are coming up now. They all have borders and are mulched. Overall, the yard is much easier to maintain than the one in Middlebury, which was not flat and had been haphazardly maintained by various owners since 1800. The owners from 1978 to 1997 had hired a yard service and put in beds, which were not maintained after 1997. When I moved there, the beds and yard were a mess. Here, it only took me a couple of hours to clean up the beds from last year, and the lawn takes half the time to mow as the one in Middlebury. I don't really care about perennials but will at least keep the beds tidy-looking. The previous owner, like many women, was a gardening fanatic. She lived here alone, and apparently that was her main hobby.

I am generally returning to my old routines, which were completely disrupted a year ago. I've planted tomato seeds indoors and will create a small bed for about four plants behind the house. Because the yard was carefully planned, there are no trees near the house, and there is plenty of sunlight, though the temperatures may be a little lower due to the slight elevation increase. I am also planning to create a telescope installation in the yard with my remaining telescope by placing an anchor underneath it to prevent wind damage. The woods surrounding the house limit the field of view somewhat, but overall it isn't much different from the house in Middlebury. The recent eclipse was visible from the yard, but wasn't total.

My hiking activity is curtailed, as it usually is at this time of year. One of the trails that I go on in Pittsford is a wetland along Otter Creek, and it periodically is impassible due to flooding. I still go on trails near Middlebury, such as Belden Falls and the Robert Frost trail in Ripton. The Abbey Pond trail is closed due to storm damage last July. It looks as if there may be more storms this year.

Having now lived in this house for almost a year, it appears that my expenses will be manageable. In Middlebury, I paid $800 per month in rent, which is three times my current property tax. I also paid half the utilities; the utilities here are about half what they were in Middlebury, so there is no change there. Also, though I don't particularly like investing in real estate, the value of the property is going up. So, overall, my financial picture hasn't changed much, other than a decrease in liquid assets.

Predictably, for seasonal reasons, I'm not very excited about reading at the moment, but I will start another book soon. I have no biographies in mind at the moment. Biographies are my favorite reading currently, because they seem to be one of the few ways that one can find out about other people. I think that for most people alive now, they either don't reveal much about themselves or have unremarkable inner lives, or both. The impression I have is that social media tends to trivialize everyone who engages in it. Thus, for example, although I never met Carson McCullers, who qualifies as interesting, I think that my understanding of her is roughly the equivalent of spending about twenty years with someone in real time now.

Monday, April 8, 2024


On March 20, 2023, I began an involuntary transition in my life, and, since that transition is now complete, I have made some revisions to this blog. Some of my writings since that date were attempts to provide accurate descriptions of what had transpired. I also felt that an explanation was needed for why I suddenly moved from Middlebury to Brandon, because I had made several Middlebury-related posts and generally enjoyed living there. I felt that the behavior of the person who precipitated this sequence of events was so reprehensible that I couldn't simply ignore it. However, the purpose of this blog has never been retribution. Since I am no longer in any contact with that person or any of her friends or relatives, the episode is now over. Therefore, I have deleted several posts and edited a few others. If any of my readers still have an interest in this topic, I would be glad to discuss it privately, but, henceforth, it will no longer be a subject on the blog. I will continue to discuss, from time to time, psychiatric issues, because they are still of great interest to me. But they will no longer be personalized, as they were in the recent past.

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Carson McCullers: A Life: IV

I've finished this book, and did actually find it quite interesting. Ordinarily, I have difficulty relating to the thinking process of those who engage in the arts and am more comfortable with "serious" thinkers, however you define that. Possibly, because McCullers was not that distant from me in time and spent much of her life in Nyack, New York, not that far from where I lived, during the last ten years of her life, I have more socio-cultural connection with her than I do with most writers. I'll just sum up the remainder of the book and make a few comments. 

Bébé had recovered and moved back to Nyack, but died in June, 1955, when McCullers was thirty-eight. At that time, McCullers was working on a stage adaptation of The Square Root of Wonderful with Arnold Saint-Subber, who was gay. They developed a very close relationship, but he eventually moved off the project. That story is autobiographical and contains elements of both McCullers and Reeves, but is was a flop as a play on Broadway in 1957. McCullers' health was poor, and she came under the psychiatric care of Mary Mercer, who lived in Nyack, in 1958, when she was working on the novel Clock Without Hands. By this time, McCullers was becoming a regular at hospitals, and she finally received a medical explanation of her condition. It was thought that a strep throat infection during her childhood had led to rheumatic heart fever, which in turn had caused her strokes. There was no evidence that the strokes had caused brain damage. However, she was partially paralyzed on her left side and received corrective surgery. 

Mary Mercer initially did a Freudian analysis of McCullers, but it doesn't seem to have produced any insights. Nevertheless, McCullers chose to keep records of her psychotherapy sessions for possible future use. Mercer became a very close friend and, as an M.D., gradually took charge of her other medical needs. Since McCullers was becoming more physically disabled, she also became more dependent on her African-American housekeeper, Ida Reeder, who had earlier worked for her mother.

In 1959, Isak Dinesen, the author of Out of Africa, one of McCullers' favorite books, visited the U.S. McCullers had an opportunity to meet her and discovered that Dinesen had specifically wanted to meet her, E.E. Cummings, Ernest Hemingway and Marilyn Monroe. She had already met Cummings and McCullers, and Hemingway wasn't available at the time. Since McCullers was acquainted with Monroe, she arranged a lunch at the Nyack house with Dinesen and Monroe, which went well.

In 1961, McCullers finished her first novel since 1946, Clock Without Hands, which became a bestseller and generally received positive reviews. In 1962 and 1963, she worked with Edward Albee on a stage adaptation of The Ballad of the Sad Café. In 1962, she resumed contact with Mary Tucker, her childhood piano teacher. She was invited to the Cheltenham Literature Festival in the U.K. to speak at a symposium on "Sex in Literature" and flew there in September. In 1966, she met John Huston, who was working on the film adaptation of Reflections in a Golden Eye. They hit it off very well, and he invited her to his estate in Ireland. She flew there, on a stretcher, in April, 1967, with Ida to assist her.

At this stage, McCullers was almost a complete invalid. She had undergone several surgeries, including a radical mastectomy, and was scheduled for a leg amputation. After she returned home, she had a massive stroke on her right side on August 15 and died on September 29 at the age of fifty. 

On the surface, this doesn't seem like a happy story, but, actually, McCullers was very happy most of the time. She was quite strong-willed and often got what she wanted. While she could become a major drain on people, she was able to develop a few of the close, intense relationships that she craved. There were elements of selfishness in this, but this particular biography doesn't emphasize that fact. Possibly, her early dynamics with Bébé set the stage for the rest of her life. She was a first child who remained in the limelight, and her siblings could never compete with her. Furthermore, Bébé may have projected her own aspirations onto her, influencing her decision to pursue a life in the arts. She never developed close relationships with her siblings, and there were elements of manipulation throughout her adult life. One of her closest friends, Tennessee Williams, went to great lengths assisting her but remained cautious, because he knew that she could be a bottomless pit of neediness. It seems that her primary desire as an adult may have been to develop a close relationship with an older female – like Bébé – and be bathed in uncritical love. Ironically, men seem to have been more cooperative than women. Reeves and Tennessee supported her more than all of the women except Mary Mercer, who helped her partly in her role as a doctor when she was an invalid. McCullers usually made a good first impression, but many seem to have been able to sense her intense neediness. Truman Capote and Gore Vidal made catty jokes about her behind her back. 

Some of the negatives about McCullers' life don't seem to be her fault. If strep throat as a child led to her illnesses as an adult, she can't be blamed for that. However, a case could be made that she took little responsibility for her health as an adult. The effects of smoking and drinking were not well understood in those days, but generally she seems to have done whatever she preferred regardless. It probably would have been difficult for her to break out of that lifestyle, because her family had a long history of alcoholism. She also would have been better off if she had never developed a relationship with Reeves. Despite his charm, he seems to have been psychologically problematic. He was confused about his sexuality, drank too much and took drugs. He was never able to make viable career decisions and stick with them. Possibly he suffered from PTSD. Not much information is provided about his family background, but it is probably not a coincidence that both of his brothers and his sister also committed suicide. I feel some sympathy for Reeves, because, in certain respects, he was McCullers' principal psychological support during much of her life, and she does not obviously seem to have reciprocated or felt any responsibility for his early demise.

Overall, I found McCullers to be intelligent and creative, and that her life was quite dramatic. Given her background, I think that she was relatively knowledgeable about literature and classical music. She also had fairly good taste, with some qualifications. Where I find her disappointing is that she didn't seem to have much interest in increasing her understanding of the world. For example, when she traveled to Europe she didn't explore the local cultures. Often she would just stay in a hotel room or with literary acquaintances. I don't know if she ever went to a museum. She seemed to focus almost exclusively on vocational activities and making new friends. So I'm ending up with a slightly disappointed, Sapolskyesque feeling: stuff happens.