When life imitates art, what are you going to do about it?

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Con man smile, Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Fiction can be stranger than fact. What about the reverse? I note below three writers who penned their novels long before the electoral fluke that gave the world a Trump. One is German, one is Polish, and the last is an American Jew. They wrote their works in 1970, 1985, and 2004 when a Trump (from the French tromper “to cheat”) presidency was unthinkable.


In my forty-seven years of being a San Franciscan I never imagined the tyranny of 2020's shutdown.

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Boulders still grow on trees in the time of Corona. Art by Giuseppe Penone

When I moved to San Francisco in 1973 from a dreary industrial town in New Jersey, I became a proud urban dweller for the first time. Even as I shed my car a few years ago, I would brag how the city was still my oyster. I lived on Jackson at Polk, the center of my robust universe, which stretched from Aquatic Park to the Dog Patch, from Ocean Beach to the Embarcadero. Happy to travel on foot, bicycle, Muni, Lyft, Zip car, or the kindness of friends, I would tick off the many places at my fingertips or footsteps that met my physical, spiritual, and intellectual needs. …


It’s crab season! Time to get cracking.

A person wearing an apron, preparing crabs at a workstation with a brown-tiled countertop.
A person wearing an apron, preparing crabs at a workstation with a brown-tiled countertop.
Fisherman’s Wharf, San Francisco. Photo: Fred Hsu via Wikipedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

Consider a mollusk such as the escargot. It would be nothing but a garden pest without a megadose of garlic and butter. On the other hand, Dungeness, the crustacean indigenous to the West Coast, needs absolutely nothing — not even a pretty French name — to elevate it. The sweet, briny meat can actually improve your garlic and butter.

I have found no evidence that you could say the same for other types of crabs — blue, for instance.

“For many West Coast seafood lovers, including me,” writes Mark Bittman in his book Fish: The Complete Guide to Buying and Cooking, “this great-tasting Pacific crab… is better compared to Maine lobster than to blue crab; it’s that good and that meaty.” …


Tango induces tribal love. After tango, coupling with just one feels sort of claustrophobic.

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Photo by Preillumination SeTh on Unsplash

No matter the stranger’s laser blue eyes and satin silver hair. The magic resides in the embrace and he knows how to power it from his core through my torso. The music begins and we are dancing airborne tango.

Airborne tango occurs when my partner and I are so in sync we leave the ground. One of tango’s basic tenets is that one leg is always free. So, for split seconds during weight shifts, both feet seem to dance on air. If cars hydroplane on wet pavement why can’t fleet-footed dancers generate uplift on a wood floor? At the Verdi Club in San Francisco where I dance tango every Thursday, I’ve been in “flight” nearly the whole evening with the stranger who is passing through from Oregon to Africa. …


You are your writing, your writing is you. You only feel separate until you journey through the process.

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We are one with the bull. Wikimedia Commons

The Ten Bulls or Ox-herding Pictures date back to about the 11th century in China, representing progress toward enlightenment, at a time when Buddhism was traveling from India, taking root in other parts of Asia. The childlike drawings serve as an allegory for moods, emotions, and shades of resistance that many writers experience.

1. Searching for the Ox — Sitting down on a Chair/Ox to find the Story. You & Story are separate. “Everything is shifting and unsteady.” Frisson of excitement and/or agitation.

2. Seeing the Traces Aha! Moments. You spill some ink, symbols on a blank page. Flashes of insight. Startling! Scent of your own genius arises. Wow! …


She floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee, and gives lessons in botanicals.

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Photo by Alfred Schrock on Unsplash

I had been working at Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, for six months that fateful afternoon of June 15, 1981. My boss, Charlie Gerras, called me into his office and asked if I would drive an out-of-town visitor, with some French-sounding name, to Rodale’s organic farm. Looking out his window, I couldn’t hear the crickets I knew were buzzing, but I could see the thickness of early summer gathering like phlegm.

Sure, I said with forced enthusiasm. Charlie, wheelchair-bound since a diving accident years ago, had been a prince of an editor to hire me to write cookbooks, given my piecemeal experience. He had seen my potential and passion for food. I would do anything for him. …


His aphrodisiac power excites a glow in some men usually reserved for one’s sweetheart.

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Henry Kissinger has been on both ends of the homoerotic stick. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

My neighborhood Trump lover appears nothing like the Neanderthals (uncivilized and unintelligent) seen in images of January 6th’s insurrection. Rudy, I’ll call him, comes across as a regular guy. He is always cordial, well-mannered, divorced and friends with his ex-wife. Rudy, who is attractive, can be an insufferable spouter of his hero’s greatness but you can also engage him on other topics.

Still there was something unsettling I noticed about Rudy some months ago. He smiled sheepishly as he was eager to show me a photo of Trump in his thirties. I could almost feel Rudy’s heart swell as he showed me his cellphone. “Isn’t he handsome?” Rudy glowed with an aura usually reserved for one’s sweetheart. I didn’t share with him what I thought, that the face didn’t foretell the one who would go on to be a sexual predator, baldfaced liar, narcissistic sociopath, and disgrace to his country. This was even before Trump incited the assault on our Capitol. …


“The loneliness of the friendless is a special horror,” writes Herbert Gold.

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The 96-year-old’s book of poetry with ironic title. Photo: Camille Cusumano

I first met Herb Gold, author of numerous works of fiction and non-fiction, at a press event hosted by the French consulate in San Francisco. Years passed, careers and family demands waxed and waned. Then, a year ago, the stars aligned, we got in touch and have become good friends, in an organic sort of way, the way writers who are weary of strutting and fretting their hour upon stage are drawn to each other. (Even if one of them is obscure, the other a famous who’s who.) Friendship with few demands, other than sharing company, brews naturally—with easy come and go as we live near each other. We visit weekly, mostly in his small apartment on Russian Hill where he has resided for decades. Amid furniture burdened by heaps of books manuscripts, and walls covered with art (lots of Haitian), yellowed news clippings, and family and friend photos, I manage to find a clearing. I sit facing Herb and a view toward North Beach, a venerable Bohemia where Herb once schmoozed with other Beats. He sets out cheese and crackers and herbal tea for me. We chat about anything from my deep involvement in the tango world to writerly gossip to our families. …


Ancient Indians, who gave us Ayurvedic medicine, recognized states of being, useful to every writer.

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High, low, or in-between, the muse has a life of its own. Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Three states of being that every writer should recognize

If you practice yoga, a gift of Hindu culture, you may be aware of three qualities of energy, from which we draw strength. Even if you don’t, paying close attention to these three strands and how they affect your moods, physique, and desire to write or not, can help you enhance your highs, coast through the lows, and otherwise find your most productive center of being. Body chemistry is as vital as a mental outlook for writers.

Running through us and all of the natural worlds are three types of energy: rajas, the energy of passion and aggressiveness; tamas, the energy of inertia and passivity; and sattva, the strand of clarity, peace, and equanimity. From these descriptions, you may recognize your rajas-dominant mood when you are cooking with fire, in the timeless zone of creativity, writing on auto-pilot, perhaps having paroxysms of genius. Every flame has its point of extinction and this state cannot healthily be sustained. What invariably occurs next is that rajas reach critical mass and tanks. Tamas kicks in. If you’ve been writing seriously for any length of time, you’ll recognize the syndrome. In my case, I tend to feel hollow, empty, depressed, not clinically, but creative-juice-wise, and often I sleep better, for lack of stimulation. It feels as if I’ll never again have a creative thought. (Bi-polar sufferers seem to experience these states in extremis, a whole different story.) It is tempting for writers to prefer to remain in the headiness of rajas. But your output will be better quality in the long run if you abide the inertia of tamas. …


Both remind us to bless the Light as we head into the Dark.

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St. Lucy is always shown with wheat and holding her gouged-out eyeballs. Photo Benvenuto Tisi, Wikimedia

This year, on December 13, we celebrate the feast of Santa Lucia of Siracusa, Christian patron of Light and Sight, and the fourth day of Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Light. Hanukkah’s origins stem from the second century B.C. commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. Legend has it that even though there was only enough olive oil for one day’s light, the candles miraculously burned for eight nights. Hence today, the lighting of the candelabrum with nine branches, called a menorah.

As for Lucy, she earned her place in the pantheon of Catholic martyrs in 304 A.D. She rejected the advances of a suitor during the Diocletian period of brutal persecution of Christians. She was executed in Siracusa, Sicily, her eyes removed. The version of her mythology that first reached me was that rather than submit to the lust of a pagan who had admired their celestial blue color, St. Lucy gouged out her own eyes, thus avoiding a sin of impurity, remaining virginal. Sometime after her death she then performed a miracle, church-certified, of sailing three ships full of wheat to a port to save her faithful from starvation during a famine. In the artwork above, Lucy is holding her eyes and brandishing a stalk of wheat. …

About

Camille Cusumano

Author(ity) in/on San Francisco. Novel, essay, memoir. Teaches tango. Travel, outdoors, culture. Former editor at VIA Mag.

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