Inauguration Day as a red-carpet awards show


Meryl Streep giving anti-Trump speech at Golden Globes

I’m a sucker for awards shows. I watch the Oscars, the Grammys, the Emmys, the Country Music Awards—even the Tonys, although I’m usually unfamiliar with the shows because I can’t afford the price of a Broadway ticket. The Golden Globes are my favorite, because the movie stars are seated around circular tables and have access to an open bar, which leads to some occasionally bizarre unscripted moments—along with some scripted ones, like Meryl Streep’s eloquent speech this year.

Donald J. Trump’s inauguration kept me glued to the television screen for over seven


Michelle Obama in Jason Wu

hours yesterday—eight if you count ABC’s coverage of the inaugural balls. In many ways, the day reminded me of those awards shows, especially in the morning coverage of the political celebrities alighting at the Capitol and making their way through the marble corridors and eventually to their assigned seats for the inauguration. It was the Washington equivalent of the Hollywood red carpet, except that the famous folk didn’t stop for reporters’ questions or photo ops. There were some memorable fashion statements, though, as in the photos I’m including here.

Donald Trump, Melaina Trump

Melania Trump in Ralph Lauren

I blocked out the entire day on my calendar, even opted to skip my Friday morning Nia class at the YMCA, because I didn’t want to miss this historic transfer of power. I’ve watched memorable inaugurations in the past. In 1993, I was running a home care agency, ElderSource Inc., in New Paltz, New York. We specialized in round-the-clock live-in care, and though I was founder and president of my little business, I frequently ferried our aides to and from their assignments.

On the day of Bill Clinton’s inauguration, I had come to pick up one of our wonderful Jamaican aides from her assignment in Kingston and drive her to the Metro North station in Poughkeepsie so she could catch the train back to New York City. We had some time to spare, so along with our client, we watched part of Clinton’s inauguration. Avis and I were so moved that we embraced and cried happy tears as we watched the swearing in.

Years later, during Obama’s first inauguration in 2009, I was babysitting my younger granddaughter in Woodstock. She was far too young to understand what was happening on TV, but I remember sitting on the floor, cradling her in my arms as I watched the historic swearing-in of our first African American president.


Hillary in Ralph Lauren, with Bill. She put on her public smile, but the cameras caught her earlier looking devastated and depressed.

This inauguration was different. I was a fervent Hillary supporter. I heard both her and Trump when they held rallies in Albany during the New York primaries. When she was First Lady, I’d glimpsed her through the smoked glass of a limo as she and Bill sped through New Paltz, then heard her speak at a political breakfast in Kingston. When she published her first memoir, I stood in line to get her autograph at the Book House in Albany.

Like most of my friends, I was dismayed when Trump won. Unlike most of them, I refuse to catastrophize about it, and I’m willing to cut him some slack and hope for the best. Nevertheless, I planned to spend the day watching the inauguration while drowning my sorrows in cheap Chablis from a box. Strangely enough, that never happened. I found myself caught up in the spectacle of the peaceful transition of power from one administration to the next, the gracious way the Obamas passed the trapping of power to the Trumps, the way presidents from opposing parties sat peaceably together to witness the swearing-in ceremony.


Trump Tower atrium in early days

Until he ran for President, I confess I rather liked Donald Trump. I occasionally watched The Apprentice, then The Celebrity Apprentice. When I visited Manhattan to visit the museums and the midtown galleries in the 80’s and 90’s, I often stopped in at Trump Tower to ride the escalators up and down, ogle the waterfall and the gorgeous orangey marble walls, and browse the luxury boutiques. Then I’d sit at a table in the lobby for coffee or a cocktail, enjoying the sensation of partaking in the over-the-top opulence and luxury. Politically incorrect, perhaps, but in those days, I never associated Trump with politics. Probably, neither did he.

In a couple of hours, I plan to march in Albany in solidarity with millions of women—and men too, including my husband—throughout the country. Now, more than ever, we need to stand strong for women’s rights, along with many other human rights and environmental issues that will come under attack with the new administration. But I refuse to succumb to fear, anger or despair. Life’s too short. To paraphrase John Lennon and Yoko Ono, All I am saying, is give Trump a chance. And pray to the Higher Power of your choice.


Trump Tower in January, 2017

Paranoid schizophrenics I’ve known


Esteban Santiago in custody

Esteban Santiago, the lone gunman who killed five innocent strangers and wounded six more at the Fort Lauderdale airport on January 6th, had sought help from the government in November. He walked into an FBI office in Anchorage, Alaska, claiming that the U.S. government was controlling his mind and forcing him to watch Islamic State videos. Agents called police and he was taken for a mental health evaluation, but he didn’t appear intent on harming anyone, so he slipped through the cracks in the system. Two months later, he officially became a murderer.

His delusional claims brought back memories of my years working on locked wards with seriously ill patients at Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. With my hard-earned master’s degree in art therapy from New York University, I was embarking on my first full-time job in mental health, and I was especially fascinated by the elaborate delusions of those diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic. The men on Ward 604 ranged in age from their late teens to early middle age and they were on the maximum-security ward because they were considered a danger to themselves or others. Some were assaultive, others had prison records, and there were a couple of murderers.


Abandoned Rehab Center at HRPC. I led an evening Creative Arts Club here for those allowed to leave the wards.

This was the 1980’s, and like many state mental hospitals across the country, Hudson River was rapidly being downsized as patients were discharged into the community, presumably to be managed through outpatient services and medication. But some were deemed too dangerous for discharge, and others cycled in and out through the system’s revolving doors.

Some of the paranoid schizophrenics believed they took their orders from God or the government, while a few believed they actually were God or at least Jesus. One young man believed he had turned into a woman and had sex with John Lennon. (This was in early 1980, before John was brutally murdered.) I couldn’t resist replying, in my best nonjudgmental therapeutic manner, “Oh, do you want to tell me about that? What was it like?” Unfortunately I can’t recall his reply.

I encouraged the patients to get their visions down on paper, with pencils or paint, and to talk or write about what the images meant to them. As an art therapist, I’d been trained not to impose my own interpretations aloud, but I’d learned to analyze the pathologies revealed by their artwork, to record them in progress notes and to report disturbing content to their shrinks and treatment teams. Often the imagery was violent, replete with swords, guns, blood and dismemberment. Yet not once did a patient assault me or even verbally threaten me. I was their ally, there to foster their creativity and self-expression, not to impose controls on them.


Abandoned day room, Cheney Building, HRPC–much like the one where I held art therapy sessions

Hudson River closed years ago, and I’ve often wondered what became of those patients who were incapable of adjusting to life in the community. Like thousands of others, many probably ended up in prison, homeless or dead. Deinstitutionalization hasn’t been the panacea it was touted as being, and there aren’t enough affordable community mental health services to go around.


Esteban Santiago in Iraq

Esteban Santiago was receiving psychological treatment in Alaska, but his family wasn’t privy to the details. Clearly it wasn’t enough, but maybe nothing could have stopped his deadly rampage. Since he surrendered and survived, maybe he’ll be able to shed some light on his actions.

Two days after the shooting, I began this blog post as a potential op ed piece for the Albany Times Union, but then I realized that my viewpoint wasn’t sufficiently clear, so I put it aside. A day after that, the TU introduced a new, reduced format, with certain features shortened or omitted. The two Perspective pages, with their generous space for columns, both national and local, went on the chopping block. Now they might not have space for my essay in any event, so I decided to post it here. Since I’m no longer limited to 600 words, I can be a bit more freewheeling—if I were aiming for publication in the TU, I wouldn’t have mentioned the patient who believed he’d fucked John Lennon.

I have mixed emotions about hospitalization for the mentally ill, especially those who are truly a danger to themselves or others. Deinstitutionalization was supposed to be a good thing, and those enormous old hospitals were portrayed in the public eye as hideous snake pits. But Hudson River Psychiatric Center was a fairly benign and yes, therapeutic environment. If it weren’t, I could never have worked there for 13 years, enough to get me vested in the New York State retirement system that helps sustain me now.

The patients at Hudson River inspired me to embark on my first novel, then titled The Flip Side. It was good enough to win me some personalized and encouraging rejection letters, and eventually a good agent in Manhattan, but alas, she never sold it. It remains unpublished, but who knows, I may resurrect it one of these days.

Meanwhile, I sometimes wonder what became of those fascinating guys on Ward 604. Did they eventually get discharged and adjust to life in the community? More likely they died young or landed in prison.


Main building at HRPC burning in May, 2007

David Bowie memories a year after his death

Bowie Ziggy tights

Bowie as Ziggy Stardust

I published this tribute to David Bowie on January 19, 2016. Now, on the first anniversary of his death on January 10, I feel it’s appropriate to print it again. Now more than ever, we need his otherworldly vision for our planet and for America in particular.

David Bowie was the star at the center of my musical universe in the early ‘70’s, in his Ziggy Stardust heyday. Alas, I never met him, but we were within one degree of separation when Cherry Vanilla and others in his inner circle came to see my Bowie painting inside my geodesic dome in the Erotic Garden show at the Women’s Interart Center in Manhattan. But more on that later.

The morning after he died, when I cranked up my car after leaving my Nia class at the YMCA, the radio was tuned to WEXT, the alternative rock station. They were playing “Rebel Rebel,” and I happily sang along. When the announcer KTG came on, she talked about how she’d loved Bowie’s music as a young child, and how her mother played it to help her learn to dance.  “I wish I could play his music all day,” she said in her typically pert, cheery voice. Then she said “We’ve lost a brilliant, innovative artist.”

Bowie Aladdin Sane cover

Lost? The word sounded ominous. I drove straight home, booted up my computer and brought up the Drudge Report. A photo of David in his Aladdin Sane makeup topped the page, with the stark black headline BOWIE DEAD. He had died Sunday, January 10th, after an 18-month struggle with cancer, which he’d concealed from all but his closest family and friends. He’d turned 69 only two days before, and had released his new album Black Star the same day. In December, his new musical Lazarus opened off-Broadway. Both the album and the musical garnered rave reviews.

I was eerily reminded of the morning I learned of John Lennon’s death in 1980. I pulled out of my driveway in New Paltz, headed to work at Hudson River Psychiatric Center, and heard John’s music on Woodstock’s alternative rock station, WDST. They played one cut, then another, and I sang along, but then the announcer came on to announce John had been murdered the night before. I’ll always remember exactly where I was when I heard the news, just as I’ll remember where I was when I learned of the assassinations of JFK and RFK, and I’m sure the news of Bowie’s death will imbed itself in my brain along with the memories of those other fallen heroes.

But Bowie’s death was different. Tragic, yes, but he’d given us nearly five decades of brilliantly innovative music. His 25th studio album, Blackstar, was released on his birthday, just two days before he died, along with two videos. The jazz musicians he recorded with had no idea he was terminally ill, according to his long-time producer Tony Visconti, who was one of the few he confided in. Last night I watched the videos for “Black Star” and “Lazarus.” They were both fantastically imaginative but deeply disquieting. “Lazarus” is a brilliant piece of performance art, where he repeatedly rises from his hospital bed and moves his body spasmodically, like an avant garde dancer.

After that I segued into videos from his Ziggy Stardust period, and the memories came flooding back. I was at Radio City Music Hall on Valentine’s Day, 1973, when he performed as Ziggy, and I made it down the aisle and snapped photos with my Pentax. Available light, no flash, black and white, and when I developed them in the photography studio down the street from my Prince Street loft, they were fuzzy but good enough to use as source material for the paintings inside the geodesic dome I showed that spring in the Erotic Garden exhibit that featured a dozen feminist artists.


I phoned Mainman, Bowie’s management company, to invite them—and hopefully David himself—to the show, and a couple of them actually came, including Cherry Vanilla, who casually bragged “I’ve had him.” They loved my Womb Dome and said they’d encourage him to come see it. Maybe he actually did—I never knew.

When the Erotic Garden show was over, I reassembled the dome in my Prince Street loft for a guest room, complete with a double-size mattress. That same fall, when I met my husband-to-be at Max’s Kansas City, I was wearing the same pink and pastel outfit I’d worn for the Erotic Garden opening six months before, with the same Pentax camera slung around my neck. “I see you’ve got a Pentax,” he said. “I’m writing a book about Pentax.”

Bowie Iggy & Lou Reed 1972 London

David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Lou Reed in London, 1972

A month later, we were living together, both ready to leave the wild lifestyle of the early 70’s behind. But it’s highly likely our daughter was conceived in that dome, under my paintings of David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust and Iggy Pop crouching in broken glass, singing “I want to be your dog.” Perhaps that’s one reason she and my granddaughters are such avid fans of the Starman. Another is the final time I heard David Bowie live, in 1997, when I brought Stacey, then 21, to the GQ awards, where he did an entire set following the presentations. The venue once again was Radio City Music Hall.

Stacey said it best in a recent Facebook exchange: David Bowie has had a transformational impact on three generations of Lomoe women. Long may his legacy live.

David Bowie performs as Ziggy Stardust

Emily Hanlon’s Ten New Year’s Resolutions for the Fiction Writer


Emily Hanlon

Emily Hanlon posted these New Year’s resolutions for fiction writers, and she’s given me permission to reprint them here. I first encountered Emily through the International Women’s Writing Guild years ago, when they were holding their annual summer conferences at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York. I gained a lot from her five-day workshop, and I’m delighted to be back in touch with her. She gives workshops both live and online as well as mentoring individual fiction writers.

Reading Emily’s bio, I just learned that like me, she’s a graduate of Barnard.

Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Fiction Writers!

Forged in Fire: Creativity and the Writer’s Journey!

  1. When I begin a new piece, I write without thinking or planning.
  2. I welcome the unexpected in my writing.
  3. My best writing comes from my heart and the fire in my belly.
  4. I become my characters, they do not become me. I go where my characters take me.
  5. I love my first draft writing for its chaos, fertility, and uncovered gems.
  6. I do not think about being published until the piece is finished.
  7. I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up.
  8. I write the story that is gestating within me—even if it scares me or makes me think I am losing my mind.
  9. Writing is a craft. Craft supports writing, it does not define it.
  10. I am a fierce warrior for my writing and creativity!

Excellent advice for all writers, fiction or nonfiction. It’s especially applicable to “pantsers,” who write by the seat of their pants without outlines or preconceived ideas. Planners who like to know where they’re going before they embark on their creative journeys may find some of the ideas intimidating, even downright scary, but you can take what you need and leave the rest.


Personally, I’m a pantser. My novels are character-driven, and the plots evolve chapter by chapter. I like E.L. Doctorow’s quote: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” But I’m not gutsy enough to carry that method to the extreme. I prefer having at least a rudimentary map, though not a GPS; I don’t like taking directions from anyone else.

Of the ten resolutions above, I have the most trouble with #6: I do not think about being published until the piece is finished. For me, it’s impossible not to think about publishing; it’s the omnipresent elephant in the room. But when the writing is going well and I’m in a state of flow, I forget about publishing. It’s only in the before and after times, or when my inner critic kicks in, that publishing becomes an issue.

My favorite may be #7: I set up a writing schedule that supports, not defeats, my writing. I will not use failure to keep to my schedule as a reason to give up. Schedules are a major nemesis for me, one I’ll discuss in a future post. Even in retirement, with few fixed obligations, I have trouble maintaining a regular writing schedule, and that danged inner critic makes me miserable when I let distractions lure me away from my desk.


Edvard Munch

Much of Emily’s coaching focuses on getting in touch with our shadow sides. Lately she’s been giving hour-long online workshops where students from throughout the country and abroad can participate free of charge. You can learn more about Emily Hanlon, her coaching and workshops, by visiting her website:

What do you think of these ten resolutions? Which ones inspire you, and which ones scare you? I’d love to hear from you, so please leave comments. And subscribe to my blog by leaving your email address in the column to the right. Creatively speaking, I feel 2017 will be a great year, and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.

A new year, a new book project

At yesterday’s New Year’s service at church, we sat in a circle, passed around a talking stick, and shared our goals and resolutions for the year ahead. I announced two:

  • Work on creating a serene, organized home environment
  • Complete the presentation for my new book project on creativity, then find an agent and publisher

Emerson Hall at FUUSA

The church in question is the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Albany, and our minister, Sam Trumbore, had chosen the topic “Begin again in love.” Usually we sit with the chairs arranged in conventional rows, and there’s less opportunity for individual participation, but this being New Year’s morning, Sam expected a smaller turnout. But there were several dozen of us, and we formed three concentric circles. As we passed the South American rain stick, many people chose not to speak, and others spoke of modest, everyday goals—spending more time with family or in nature, being more mindful of health concerns, learning more about social media or, conversely giving it up entirely.

Having come late to the service, as is unfortunately all too typical, I was the last in the row of the outermost circle, and impatiently awaited my turn to speak. When I did, I failed to mention the state of disarray my house is actually in, but I was more specific about my book project, announcing my working title and the fact that I’ve already registered it as a domain name. (I’ve blogged about the project before, but I’m still not ready to go officially public with the title, because I don’t want anyone stealing it. I figure the FUUSAns won’t remember.)


John William Waterhouse

At 75, I sometimes wonder whether it’s overly ambitious to take on a major project like the book I have in mind. Granted, the goal I set is daunting, and realistically, I don’t know if I’ll manage to land a good agent and publisher within the next twelve months. But completing a nonfiction book proposal is well within my capabilities—I’ve done it three times before, although I abandoned all three projects before seriously seeking publication.

The first was a book based on my daughter’s first year of life. I’d done a project illustrating the minutiae of my daily life with her, I showed it in a SoHo gallery, and it was featured in New York magazine. An editor at a major publishing house saw the show, called me up, and I paid her a visit in her spectacular office high in a skyscraper with panoramic views of Manhattan. I’d brought my daughter along, and she peed on the editor’s couch. That wasn’t the reason I gave up on the project, but I’ll leave that story for another time, along with the reasons I abandoned my books on art therapy and gardening.

For now, let’s just say I’m confident in my ability to put together a book proposal. It draws right-brain-left-brainon the logical, left-brain side of my intellect, the side that won me my Phi Beta Kappa key at Barnard.* And as for being too old to take on a new project, I’m convinced I’m as sharp as I ever was. I could drop dead any day—far too many of my contemporaries are taking that trip—but in general, my health is disgustingly good. The only activity I’ve given up because of age is downhill skiing, and that’s primarily because I haven’t been working out regularly enough to maintain the strength in my legs, not to mention that snow conditions in the Northeast have been abominable for the past couple of years.**

But my major reason for embarking on an all-consuming project is that for my sanity’s sake, I know I have to. From past experience, I know that abandoning my dreams of creative achievement is likely to plunge me into a major depression, and that’s worth avoiding at all costs. When I hear my contemporaries rhapsodizing about their travels, their grandkids and their cats, I know those everyday pleasures and satisfactions, wonderful as they may be, will never be enough for me.


What about you? Do you have any major new goals or resolutions for the New Year? I’d love to hear from you.

*My classmates at Barnard included Martha Stewart, Erika Jong and Twyla Tharp, but that’s another story too.

**In the back of my mind, there lurks the possibility that I may yet ski again. Many people ski into their 80’s and 90’s. Unfortunately, my old ski pants are a size or two too small, but when I told my husband I might buy a new pair, since they’re handy for snow shoveling, dog walking, and maybe a little cross-country skiing, he tried to dissuade me. Maybe I should try flannel-lined jeans, he said, or rain or wind pants. When I asked why not ski pants, he confessed that he was worried I might take to the slopes again. Hey, never say never.

Trashing the old year, welcoming the new

christmas_tree_chipping_ukTonight is New Year’s Eve, and I’ve barely finished trimming my Christmas tree. Don’t tell me, I know—other folks are already taking theirs down, and a couple of days ago, I spied one of our town’s yellow highway department trucks cruising the neighborhood with one of those giant vacuum and chipper combinations, the kind they use to suck up autumn leaves and pulverize stray branches that diligent homeowners drag out to the roadside in the fall. The sight of the truck reminded me of one of this year’s more grizzly local news stories: his first day on the job with a tree trimming service, a young man was pulled arm-first into the chipper, thereby meeting an instantaneous and gruesome end.

The newspaper and the TV crews refrained from describing the grisly details; they simply interviewed some of his coworkers, who said the accident was the worst thing they’d ever seen. I wondered what kind of on-the-job training and orientation he’d received, if any, and whether the company got sued, but legal issues aside, it was a tragedy that conjured up images I’d rather not contemplate. That’s why I tend to avoid horror movies and chain saws. Even so, I’m flashing back to an otherwise forgettable film that featured bloody red slush spewing from a snow blower.

trump-swearing-in-by-chan-lowLooking back on what in many ways was an abominable year, I can think of a certain individual I’d love to see to see fed through a wood chipper. Or perhaps that would be too speedy, too kind a fate. Enduring the final terrifying days and hours of a doomed steer headed for market might be more appropriate—the death train, the feedlot, the slaughter house. . .

But never fear, dear reader, I won’t take you there. True, I kill people off in my suspense novels, but even my murderers treat their victims with relative compassion—there’s no outright sadism or torture. And I wouldn’t wish such a ghastly end on any of my friends or acquaintances, not even on the few people I genuinely detest.

Over the past year, and especially since the election, it’s been all too easy to get swallowed up and sucked down into a cesspool of negativity. I’m far from blameless in this respect, as you can see by perusing the paragraphs above. By and large I try to focus on the positive, but lately that’s been hard to do without adopting the mentality of an ostrich and burying my head in the sand. I limit my daily ration of news, but my Facebook feed is full of dire predictions of impending doom and urgent pleas to support worthy causes. Move On, Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club—those and so many other worthwhile organizations are in dire need of my financial support, but as a senior on a fixed income, I can’t afford to shell out the cash.


American Museum of Natural History 2014

So add guilt to the witch’s brew of toxic emotions—anger, fear, frustration, despair over the fate of this country we’re bequeathing to our children and grandchildren. Mix with a generous helping of salty grey road sludge from the wimpy storm system that failed to deliver a satisfying blanket of the white stuff. Factor in the meagre hours of cloudy daylight, the frigid winds, the pressure of last-minute shopping and spending, and you have the perfect recipe for sickness—sickness of the mind, body and soul.

And that brings me back full-circle to the day before Christmas, and the reason the tree didn’t get trimmed in time. Obligations and priorities—some self-imposed, others imposed by others—conspired to keep me away from trimming the beautiful Frasier fir that had been sitting forlornly in the driveway for a week. All afternoon, I felt my tension and anger building, my blood pressure rocketing skyward, and lo and behold, by the time I’d finished singing in the choir for the Christmas Eve service, I’d pulled in a full-blown cold, maybe even flu. Once home, I festooned the tree with a couple of strings of lights, then fell into bed and let an enormous glass of eggnog with lots of brandy lull me to sleep.


Albert Joseph Moore 1884

In the end, everything turned out fine. Christmas in Woodstock with my family was wonderful, and a couple of lazy days in bed have set me on the road to recovery. But the mind-body connection definitely laid me low. I’m a firm believer in the powerful impact negative emotions and over-the-top stress can have on the body. Research shows that heart attacks are more frequent on Monday mornings than any other time of the week, and the holidays show a spike in cardiac events as well.

So for the New Year, I resolve not to let negativity take control and jerk me around. I vow to keep those trusty old rules in mind:

1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

2. It’s all small stuff.

I’ve been wondering whether to publish this post because of all the negativity, but what the hell, here goes. If nothing else, it’s a good example of the unfettered creative process—segueing from an untrimmed Christmas tree to a town truck trolling the neighborhood with a wood chipping machine to a gruesome local wood chipper fatality to the pleasure I’d take in pulverizing Donald Trump. If you’ve hung in there with me this far, dear reader, I congratulate you.

Believe it or not, I’m actually feeling happy and optimistic, and I hope you are too. Any resolutions or random thoughts you’d care to share? I’d love to hear them. Here’s wishing everyone the happiest of New Years. Let’s keep in touch!


The week of The Taint

Thor_Father Christmas with goat wagon by_ronchironna

I’m working on a new post about this week between Christmas and New Year’s, but I’m not quite ready to publish it–a little too gross and gloomy. So in the meantime, I’m sharing this from last year. Warning: it’s still gross in spots, but at least it’s less gloomy.

Norwegians have a word for the week between Christmas and New Year’s: romjula. The closest we have in English is the word Taint, meaning it ‘taint Christmas any more, but it ‘taint New Year’s either. I’m indebted to Rex Smith’s December 26th essay in the Times Union for this information, which inspired me to undertake some further research about this interlude in the darkest days of winter. I’m especially interested because of my Scandinavian heritage—I’m ¾ Norwegian and ¼ Swedish.

The theme of last night’s Poets Speak Loud open mic at McGeary’s Tavern was “holiday hangovers,” so I decided to write a poem about my findings. My research uncovered another meaning for “The Taint,” a meaning not fit to print in a family newspaper, but totally appropriate for the traditionally bawdy end-of-the-year event hosted by Mary Panza. In the version below, I’m highlighting the dirty bits in magenta, so you can skip over them if you’re squeamish.

The Christmas Goat and the Taint

The Taint—that’s what the Brits call this week that’s neither here nor there.

‘Taint Christmas any more, ‘taint New Year’s either.

A weirdly nebulous time, in northern climes devoted to slothful lassitude,

To wallowing in the doldrums, swallowed up in food and booze.

Some call it the Witching Week, claim you’ve got a free pass to excess

And nothing counts against you during The Taint.

That goes for calories too, so scarf down all those goodies.

Chugalug that eggnog, channeling Miss Piggy.

No fair weighing yourself till New Year’s morning.

Assuming you can see down past your bloated belly,

The digital red numbers will inform you of the penalty for all that gluttony.

Ding dong, the season of the witch is dead and gone,

But you’ll be paying the price in pounds for months to come.

Nude Waking Adonis painting

But speaking of butts, The Taint has another meaning:

The place between the vulva and the anus, that narrow swath of skin

Also called the perineum, that keeps the delicate lady parts

From filthy nether regions. Also the area between the scrotum and the asshole

That keeps a man from shitting on his nuts.

This definition dates from the Renaissance, probably precedes

The tamer version focused on dark December,

And sheds new light on Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love.”

Norwegians have less judgmental terms for the perineal lull

Twixt Christmas and New Year’s Eve: Romjula or romhelgen,

From the Norse, means “That does not need to be kept strictly sacred.”

In other words, no guilt trips. Nearer the North Pole,

Cradled in relentless never ending darkness,

They cut themselves some slack, feast on foods like krumkake and nuts,

Smash and devour the gingerbread houses

So carefully built for Christmas. They cozy up at home with family,

Slug down Aquavit, take contemplative walks in winter’s frigid cold.

Norwegians still may “go the Christmas goat.”

Children wander from house to house, begging treats. In earlier times

Folks dressed in shaggy pelts and brandished horns. The glowing yule log

Was once a goat, slaughtered and devoured to celebrate fertility

And ensure good fortune in the coming year.
Two goats pulled Thor’s thunderous chariot across the sky.

Tanngrisner and Tanngnjost by name, they made a fearsome racket

Called Tor-boom. We call it thunder, worship the Norse thunder god

At the multiplex, crown him the sexiest man in the world

As decreed by People magazine, though Chris Hemsworth’s actually Australian.

Hosting Saturday Night Live, he flashed his killer smile

And stashed his enormous hammer out of sight.

In Norway, long before Santa Claus, the fearsome Christmas goat

Brought presents for good children, punished the bad.

The goat is virile, beastly, a satyr, in league with witches or the devil,

A symbol of sexuality. All in all, a hell of a lot more fun and energetic

Than the amorphous, foggy phantom called The Taint

That blankets Merry England in the depths of winter.

I call myself Norse Crone, proud to be Norwegian.

Chris Hemsworth as Thor

I’d love your feedback. Please let me know how you feel about the “naughty bits” in the poem. Are they a total turn-off? Too tastelessly over the top? Since I’m working on the sequel to my vampire soap opera thriller HOPE DAWNS ETERNAL, your comments may help me decide how outrageous my writing can be.