Shrinking Pains

January 29, 2011 at 12:44 am (By Amba)

(from an e-mail and a journal)

I miss J on so many levels, whether as a problem, challenge, or joy — it was all one.  I feel sort of shrunken and diminished.  My nervous system is used to being stretched almost beyond its limit, my heart stretched wide — passively. I didn’t have to go seeking challenge and stimulation, I didn’t have to generate it — it was plopped down in the middle of my life.  My life force was entirely a response to one which was so outsized.  My nervous system is just dead in the water in the absence of that.  It doesn’t know what to do with itself, except put itself in the way of trouble, and there’s no kind of trouble it likes worth a damn.  J was some high-class trouble.


  1. michael reynolds said,

    Write a short story. But not about him.

  2. amba12 said,

    Hmm. Interesting advice.

  3. amba12 said,

    Not sure if that is a kind of trouble it likes worth a damn, or a way of finding out what kind of trouble it likes worth a damn.

    Both, probably.

  4. michael reynolds said,

    Write a story or drop acid. Either way, it re-orients you.

    When something huge happens you feel the whole world shift and since all things are relative you find yourself in a place that feels just a little … off. Writing disciplines your thinking, pushes you to locate yourself in time and space in order to do the same to your characters. (Not to get all cosmic on you.)

    Of course you have to decide when you’re ready to re-orient. I don’t hear a ticking clock on that.

    It’s a thought, anyway.

  5. Ron said,

    You know, wherever J is, ( New York, with your cat!) in this particular vale of tears you are as much of him as many of us are ever likely to see/know. Your writing here on the interweb gave us a chance to know just a sliver, but when we meet (assuming you’re not just another very clever program) we’ll see that much more of him carried on in song and story through you. Most of us don’t an Amba to share us with the rest of the world. Of course, you’re still you as well!

  6. amba12 said,

    YOU are as much of him as many of us are ever likely to see/know.

    That’s the problem — I’m completely inadequate to the task. The fact that he’s impossible to imagine also makes him difficult to remember. You need his wind filling your sails to do the job.

  7. sail on said,

    The next era is to find out what it is to be just you. A big part of that is You-and-J, a more known quantity than Amba as herself.

  8. mockturtle said,

    Perhaps it IS time for a writing project. Maybe something about the coming post-technological age? Or even a sequel to your ‘Magic’ classic, looking at the Sixties Generation five decades later.

  9. amba12 said,

    The latter book, at least for an elite cohort, was written several years ago by Sara Davidson; it’s called LEAP. You might like it.

    Eeek, didn’t mean to put an ad button in this comment.

  10. mockturtle said,

    The book looks interesting! I just read some excerpts from a Newsweek article about it.

    I’m in the process of going back to work–not because I want to but because D. is in a nursing home now and it’s costing $240/day. Right now I spend most of my day there with him but that obviously won’t be possible when I’m working full time. Work is not what I would choose to do ‘if the world were going to end in two days’ but it will bring in needed $ and perhaps help keep me sane.

  11. amba12 said,

    I am sorry. I missed your whole transition to an NH. I can imagine the complexity of your feelings. Send me an e-mail if you feel like it.

    Work is a great drug and a great distraction.

  12. Naomi Margolis said,

    Darling Annie–having been there, I can assure you that after a while “you” will emerge from this transitional nowhere-land reborn and reenergized. Right now you’re waiting for the anaesthesia to wear off. Happiness awaits.

  13. realpc said,

    I think you are experiencing the normal letdown after a difficult ordeal is over, combined with grief. I think you need time to drift, and this is not the time for taking on a big project. I don’t think you will have the energy or focus for it now. You would just be forcing yourself because you think you ought to be doing something. I think that, very gradually, the right projects will come to you, when it’s the right time.

  14. A said,

    I’m fascinated by the equation of writing a short story with an acid trip!

  15. mockturtle said,

    Can you write a short story in the time it takes to drop acid? Could you do both, simultaneously? Do they still even have that stuff??! It never really inspired me to any important projects but I did feel briefly enlightened. And entertained! :-)

  16. amba12 said,

    Michael? Did you ever write a short story on acid?

    (I never took it — I was too careful. Took mescaline a couple of times and found it fascinating. Then I met J, the anti-drug and he made me flush the rest of it down the toilet. I was never at risk for abusing a substance, though. . . . Figured I’d drop acid on my deathbed or something.)

  17. amba12 said,

    real, and Michael, I know you’re right that this process has its own timing. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with what I’m experiencing — it’s pretty natural and inevitable. It’s just added to by the free ride I got on J’s stature and energy for so many years — even when it wasn’t exactly free.

    Each of us actually “worked” better together than separately. I hitched a ride on his wake the way kids on bicycles sometimes hook onto a truck. He was much more connected, mediated, to the world by and through and with me.

    I made a note today that said “Ballast and filigree.”

  18. michael reynolds said,

    Write on acid? Yikes. No, that was a long time ago, back before I started writing. Mostly on acid I looked at fall leaves. Looked really close.

    I know Jacques was larger than life. That doesn’t mean that you’re smaller than life. If you’re parked next to Jupiter you seem small even if you’re planet earth.

    I don’t doubt that you were symbiotic. But that doesn’t mean you are crippled without that symbiosis. Ballast and filigree sounds too self-deprecating to me. How about battleship and destroyer, or if you like something less martial, coffee and cream. Both are good, sometimes they’re together, sometimes not. Maybe they’re best together, but that doesn’t mean either is useless alone.

  19. amba12 said,

    I know. It just takes time, and a lotta getting used to.

    A neighborhood character in the Village once saw me walking around by myself and wisecracked, “Where’s your better two-thirds?”

    I think everybody who’s lost someone that close feels like a part of them has been amputated. You feel like you’re bleeding and off balance, both. And also like you’ve lost one or more senses — another window on the world. We do heal and adapt. I know I will. But there’s no way to rush it.

  20. mockturtle said,

    As a young girl, I read the novel “Gone With the Wind” and have always remembered Rhett Butler telling Scarlett [in so many words], “How tightly women clutch the very chains that bind them.” The reason this has stuck like gum on my shoe is that it has proven to be true in my life. While I imagine myself yearning for freedom and self-direction, without that ‘ballast’ I am adrift. This proved inconvenient to my 60’s feminist philosophy.

  21. wj said,

    Yes, it does take a lot of getting used to. My siblings and I are still getting ourselves together after our mother’s death last April. And we’ve all got spouses and families to occupy us. (And it’s not like it was totally unexpected, for all that into her nineties we could still get exhausted just reading her calendar.)

    So we know that it will take you a while. While we will no doubt continue to offer advice and comfort we can, that being what friends do, we realize that at most it will make a marginal reduction in the time it takes. Just keep throwing your thoughts out here, if it helps.

  22. realpc said,

    You will rediscover yourself and reinvent yourself, when the time is right. I would not worry about that now, but concentrate on allowing your soul to heal. You could spend time on the physical things you love, like martial arts. And maybe add new ones like yoga or dancing. If I lived in NYC, and had time, I would spend hours walking around. You can give your mind a rest. Physical exercise is great for emotional healing.

    If you feel like writing about what you are experiencing, I and your other loyal blog readers will be here to “listen.”

  23. mileslascaux said,

    Circa 1986 I mis-timed an acid trip and had to go to work and write a story about the weather while utterly blitzed. Sad part was, it looked like all my other stories when I got the courage later to go back and look at it.

  24. PatHMV said,

    So you drank the potion which made you smaller. Now it’s time to find some magic cake to make you grow bigger…

    Hmmmm… did I just give the same “drop acid” advice?

    It’s interesting that you use the imagery of amputation, Annie:

    Matthew 19:4-6 ~ He answered, “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, `For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.

    Many amputees battle “phantom pain,” where they experience pain in the limb they no longer have. It’s quite distressing, apparently like having an itch that you know full well is both physically and mentally impossible to scratch. In some patients, the mind continues to try to use the phantom limb, believing it really still exists, such as to reach for a coffee cup or gesture while speaking.

    I doubt the “mirror box” therapy sometimes used for those patients would be helpful for you, though, Annie. You look nothing like Jacques. ;-)

  25. Maxwell said,

    It’s not on youtube, damnit, but my prescription is Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small.Echoes this thread in more ways than one.

  26. louisemowder said,

    I suggest MDMA, or Ecstasy, rather than acid. Ecstasy doesn’t give you visions as much as insight. All your anxieties and fears will disappear. You will see things clearly – including what you might consider doing.

    That clarity and feeling of release from anxiety lasts, too, at least a month. The things that you learn are truths that endure, whether you are under the influence of the drug or not.

    The other thing you might do – if you can arrange it – is go someplace where you are surrounded by quiet in the natural world. The beach? A forest? the mountains?

  27. karen said,

    What would J say, amba?

    My computer’s been down for a while- today was my lucky day back on to surf.

    A woman i know quite well(she’s 42)- lost her husband in a freak accident about three yrs ago, he was cutting down a dead tree and it toppled wrongly, breaking his neck. He saved his young son, probably 14 then, but lost his own life. The term for trees like that– Widowmakers.

    She is still re-inventing and not w/much luck because i think she was who he was– he defined her. I think she even may resent him a bit, for leaving so suddenly. She drinks a lot, at least socially- runs a lot, if you know what i mean– dog-off-leash kinda way. I wonder if she will ever find what makes her heart tick again.

    I tell you this because , idk– just to let you know how much worse it could be? That you are so important to so many of us and we would do anything to help, but we really can’t because time is what it’ll take and we all know this– yet, it sucks. and we sit, read, pound these little keys to form words of inadeqeuecy (misspelling and all)(damn those little red lines!)to try to smooth the rough edges that hurt like hell, fill a void that can’t be filled… make you smile.

    Drop ACID??? Are you nuts, Michael???? I have such a fear of any form of foreign, wacky substance that the mere thought scares me even straighter!!! If i had been a child of the 60’s i probably would not have made it out. Although spud likes to point out i was born during the Summer of Love:0).

    Love you, amba.

  28. karen said,

    I just read Louise’s comment on ~Clumsy~ & your own response.
    It’s worth reading every day.
    Her wisdom was earned, wasn’t it??
    Still being sorted out.

    It was beautifully written.

  29. amba (Annie Gottlieb) said,

    Dear Karen. Yes, it could be a whole lot worse. Jacques lived a long life and a full life, right up to the end. I kept my health. I am old enough so that my identity was totally enriched by him but not totally wrapped up in him. Does that make sense? I became who I am both by merging and by separating, being enormously influenced by him and also resisting his influence. I may lack a purpose and a tender focus, for now if not for good, but at least I had them. Given that life ends, I’m in as good a place as I could be. I may be hurting and disoriented, but I’m not complaining. I’m marveling at the strangeness.

  30. Melinda said,

    A neighborhood character in the Village once saw me walking around by myself and wisecracked, “Where’s your better two-thirds?”


    I spent the whole first year after Jim died just reconnecting with the world, and I was only a caregiver for about a third as long as you were. I didn’t place any expectations on myself other than healing myself, and for me not to expect perfection from myself was as as strange as an acid trip right there.

    Jim and I were symbiotic, too, but not because he was larger than life. It was more like we complemented each other: I was the crazy bitch who scared everyone off, and he was the charming goofball who got them back. But as I became something other than an amputated Siamese twin, I found out that not everybody had thought I was crazy, and not everyone had thought he was charming!

  31. amba12 said,

    I’ve had a little of that kind of surprise already. Thanks, Melinda.

  32. karen said,

    “Does that make sense?”

    It does make perfect sense, amba- it just doesn’t make it any easier.

    The(one of the)most awesome things about you is your sense of wonder and willingness to always learn from what you are going through. I really wish i could be like that.

    The friend i mentioned above just had another horrible thing happen- her nephew was in a very bad accident yesterday afternoon(he’s related to me, as well and my daughter’s boyfriend’s best friend(life and relations in the Kingdom, up here). He’s in Hanover in NH(our go-to hospital for trauma)& had brain surgery late last night–embolism related. I have been praying all day for a steady recovery for him–19yrs old.

    Life is hard.

  33. Randy said,

    Life is hard.

    No sh*t. Hope your friend’s nephew makes it through OK. 19 is so young. Learned today that I appear to have a 3.5 cubic centimeter lesion on my liver. Am bummed because it being benign is definitely ruled out and the remaining two or three possibilities aren’t encouraging. Hoping it’s a mistake, or failing that, the most unlikely possibility, which appears to be the only good one. Ah well, will soon find out, I guess, via MRI or CAT scan, or so the report says. And just when I was having so much fun! *LOL*

  34. amba12 said,

    Oh, Randy.

    I hope that the fact that you’ve been having fun and feeling well points to the truth of the matter. Will be waiting to hear. I’ll be in Japan from Wednesday to Wednesday but will be on the grid part of that time.

  35. mockturtle said,

    I don’t know you, Randy, but you will be in my thoughts and prayers as you tackle the evil beast. God bless you!

  36. Tim (formerly Theo Boehm) said,

    Randy: Very sorry to hear that. You know I’ll be praying for you, as well as for mistakes and unlikely possibilities.

  37. karen said,

    aw fuck.

    I ditto our friends above- please, keep us informed. I’m pretty floored.

    My young friend is in an induced coma right now. He has two large hematomas, two skull fractures& a fractured eye socket that will require constructive surgery of the left side of his face… he is reportedly doing very well, in spite of… my daughter’s boyfriend(also his best friend and room mate at college)went to see him yesterday. Patience and prayers, i guess.

    I say life is hard very sadly so. Resigned to the fact that no matter how we think we are in the driver’s seat of our lives- one tiny deviation from the road– and we get plowed by a freaking bus, which is what happened in this case; passing a car(there was a brief two-lane area to do so, going up a pretty steep hill)& he caught slush and got pulled into the oncoming lane…

  38. Maxwell James said,

    Randy – I am sorry to read that. Good luck!!

  39. Melinda said,

    Randy: Sorry to hear the news. Hope it’s resectable and goes away and leaves you alone.

  40. A said,

    I echo all good wishes toward Randy.

  41. michael reynolds said,


    That’s absolutely fucked. I’m sorry that’s coming your way.

  42. Ron said,

    Randy, we all send as much good karma to you as we can.

  43. Randy said,

    Thank you all for your good wishes!

    Aside to Michael: When I saw your comment, I immediately thought of a scene from one my favorite Britcoms, As Time Goes By, wherein a character responds, “Your words. My sentiments.” LOL! Thanks for the chuckle.

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