Saturday, January 14, 2012


John Cullum and Em compare their reactions to oddballs they see on the street.

Do you deem a person a crackpot, strange duck, a kook, because of what he/she is doing or promoting? Or is it clothing? The person's strange demeanor? Is that what makes a person "weird?"

The Cullums wonder if they react because someone who's seems "different" makes them uneasy, and discuss whether they ought to change their ways.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


Whee, this is important, I thought, when I saw the cover of my magazine.

Whoa, my Dr. Em self thought, as I delved into the 7 pages on WHY ANXIETY IS GOOD FOR YOU.

It's words, words, words defining, re-defining, explaining brain areas, hypothalamus, pituitary-adrenal (HPA), stria terminalis (BNST), amygdala, cortisol, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), phobias, panic disorder, social anxiety and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the relation of all this to DNA, white blood cells, hormones, and stress -- the kind that's self defeating, the other kind that inspires you to meet and conquer a stress-creating challenge.

Time magazine employs some very skilled, experienced writers whose articles I read, but often end up skimming because ... well ... maybe it's because I don't know enough -- too many references and abbreviations often keep me from understanding what the point IS, in the article. For me, it's as if I've bought a ticket to a play with an interesting title, good cast, even star names, but the plot ...? After I've met the cast, I can't connect with the drama. Even as I wonder if it's my ignorance, I blame it on the playwright, director, producers and sneak out of the theater at intermission.

Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time, in my opinion, is a commercially-minded boss. He's in tune with the times. He knows what's hot or getting hot, and features topics that will sell, that get people to buy the magazine. Undoubtedly Stengel deals with his own anxieties daily, because every week he's putting together an action-packed, information-packed 70 to 90 pages of stories, pictures, and ads that will attract age 10 -100-year-old readers.

For this cover story seven authorities, at seven major anxiety treatment centers were consulted. If you need help coping with your anxiety, browse this list: Sally Winston, co-director of the Anxiety & Stress Disorders Institute of Maryland (ASDI); Elissa Epel, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco; Reid Wilson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, director of the Anxiety Disorders Treatment Center; Michael Davis at Emory University; Dr. James Abelson, director of the Stress & Anxiety Disorders Program at the University of Michigan; Dr. Craig Smith, chairman of the department of surgery at Columbia University Medical Center and New York--Presbyterian (Bill Clinton's heart doc); Diego Pizzagalli of Harvard Medical School, director of the Center for Depression, Anxiety & Stress Research at McLean Hospital.

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe -- whatever is near you, that's where to go!

I perked up when the article referred to stage fright -- the churning stomach, sweaty hands, fearful thoughts like "Will I forget my lines? can I do that pirouette? can I produce the tears? will I get the laugh?" I was glad the article mentioned the sometimes HELPFUL use of anti depressants, sometimes DETRIMENTAL use of them, and encouraged us who feel anxiety, to practice converting scaredy-poop thoughts (my term) into positive thoughts. For instance, when the stage manager calls "places please," and you're ready to die -- you need to tell yourself, "Stop worrying, you always feel like this, the last time I felt like this you got a rave review."

It was seven pages of blah-blah -- not helpful, not serving any purpose -- just categorizing anxiety with words and acronyms, saying, if you are anxious, you better try not to be, otherwise you'll feel worse."

Famous wise men such as Soren Kierkegaard have said anxiety is "dizziness of reason." T.S. Eliot called it "the handmaiden of creativity."

Dr. Em says, If you are anxious, turn the page and make yourself think about something else.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


To the left -- lovely Didion, after she had her daughter.

On the right -- Joan Didion, not lovely. It was taken recently, at a press conference in Brooklyn.

She told reporters, "I'm not certain anymore."

It's in her face.

It's in her new book "Blue Nights."

So? I used to jump in and express my feelings about this and that. Now, I don't jump, and quite instead of expressing how I feel, often I just shut up. I am not certain how I feel about a lot of things these days.

When I'm driving my car, I'm okay . I'm certain about where I'm heading. If it's somewhere new, I've checked the route on a map. I drive on confidently to the turn off -- be it a super highway or an unpaved road -- and make any necessary adjustments as the need arises. But socially, artistically, not being certain hangs over me.

Just by reading the titles of Joan Didion's works (a list is at the end of this post), you re-live her life-journey with her, climbing mountains that she climbed, using her ropes and ladders. Up you go! Down you go! Missing a rung, you slip, fall and hang on tight and heave-ho yourself up again, as you identify with what she loved, despised, reached for, got, didn't get, and left behind.

Didion's special gift is the way what she writes -- unfancy -- somehow her words speak directly to you, whomever you are. She knows success -- is well known in the literary world, has earned big money, yet, like us, sometimes she's anxious, unpleasant, angry, bitter. Other times she's amused, curious, searching for balance and wondering what reality truly is.

I catch myself wondering (as Didion wonders now in "Blue Nights") why did I spend my life climbing, learning all I learned? With the wealth of what I learned in my head, in my heart, I should be able to be --just BE.

When you pick a photo for a passport, a driver's license, or for a profile picture on Facebook, you don't select the worst photo, like the unlovely Joan Didion in the right. But what she was feeling-- troubles, woes, weariness, uncertainty are in that face on the right. She's not an actress. She didn't paste on a smile and tell reporters how happy she was that her new book is selling well, and has been praised by the critics.

That's Didion's talent. Her honesty touches us and involves us with what she's feeling. "Only yesterday," Didion writes, "I could still do arithmetic, remember telephone numbers, rent a car at the airport and drive it out of the lot without freezing, stopping at the key moment, feet already on the pedals but immobilized by the question of which is the accelerator and which the brake."

Hey Joan D -- want my advice? Your honesty is wonderful, but maybe it's time to. STOP squinting at the past. Box the past and position it on a shelf -- a high one, that you rarely need to access.

You worked and learned rung-by-rung to be what you are now. Write about day-to-day living -- speak of it simply -- speak with the wealth of what you are now. Publishing your new book, you're obviously still learning, still ascending, and still experiencing triumph.

My advice to Joan Didion is advice to me, if the shoe fits, it's for you, also. Stop wondering and being "not certain." Just Be. What you are, who you are, and, where you are.

Skim these titles, years:
* Run, River (1963) fiction; * Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968) non-fiction; * Play It As It Lays (1970) fiction; *The Panic in Needle Park (1971 screenplay; *Play It As It Lays (1972) screenplay; * A Star Is Born (1976) screenplay; * A Book of Common Prayer (1977) fiction; *The White Album (1979) non-fiction; * True Confessions (1981) screenplay; *Salvador (1983) non-fiction; *Democracy (1984) fiction; * Miami (1987) non-fiction' *After Henry (1992) non-fiction; *The Last Thing He Wanted (1996) fiction; *Up Close & Personal (1996) screenplay' * Political Fictions (2001) non fiction; * Where I Was From (2003) non-fiction; *Fixed Ideas: America Since 9/11 (2003); non-fiction; *Vintage Didion (2004) non-fiction; *The Year of Magical Thinking (2005) non-fiction; *We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected non-fiction (2006); * Blue Nights (2011)

Sunday, January 8, 2012


Em surprises John Cullum. After getting him to sing "A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody," she quizzes him, and wants to know what makes a girl pretty? What does John observe about female passersby?

For John it's a tricky question, one a loving husband is reluctant to answer.

Reassuring him that she understands, that she knows she's his number one pretty girl, Emily pursues the question and delves into his answers, enjoying putting him on the spot, and really curious to know what is a "Pretty Girl" nowadays.