Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I just finished reading Gavin deBecker’s wonderful book The Gift of Fear and I am wiped out. Literally. The book hit me like a train. It’s beautifully written, and it’s about intuition, violence, compassion, crime, mental illness, child abuse, and awareness. DeBecker’s personal story is inspiring: he grew up with a crazy violent mother, and a series of bad stepfathers, and emerged able to use his power and his pain for good not evil. You can see the hurt child in his eyes on the back jacket photo, but he’s managed to integrate all the hell he went through into a brilliant career.

I wanted to write him a letter. It would read something like “Mr. deBecker, can I work for you? I’m very intuitive and creative. Alright, I don’t know a thing about law enforcement, have only touched a real gun twice in my life, am so unobservant of my environment that my partner cleans the house and then waits around for me to notice something is different, but oh, I want to track down bad guys just like you.”

I told a friend I wanted to be a forensic psychologist once and she laughed so hard she dropped the phone. When she came back on she gently reminded me of how I had had to leave the room when she started watching CSI on TV—it was the autopsy scene that got me. Anyway I am signing up for a class on abnormal psychology. DeBecker says that 100% of serial murderers were abused as children, no big surprise there—and he recommended both the IMPACT program and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, both of which I’m involved in, so it all seems synchronistic.

What fascinated me most about deBecker’s book was the section on being able to predict people’s behavior. In fact, he says, most acts of domestic violence as well as celebrity stalking and assassination attempts are preceded by lots of warning signals on the part of the assailant. People say these things come out of the blue, but that’s not really true. Everyone has intuition much of which we ignore or override because of our social conditioning.

Reading between the lines, I imagine many other types of behavior could be predicted as well. I think back to the men I dated and was blind-sided by before C. Could I have foreseen infidelity? What blinded me to the obvious fact that they were either unready for the depth of relationship I wanted or not that into me?

I saw what I wanted to see, and selectively ignored evidence to the contrary. I assumed other people were operating under the same set of rules I was. Common mistakes. But I hope I can learn from them and not repeat them. For every time I’ve been taken advantage of, I hope I can put that experience to good use.

Saturday night we went to a Jewish music concert, produced by my friend Kaila Flexer. It was amazing. Kaila’s violin just soared, sensitive, subtle, passionate, and moody. I love the new stuff she’s doing with her musical partner. It’s really indescribable—heavily influenced by all the Balkan music she’s been studying, yet edgy and intimate. To have a listen or get their latest CD, go to Kaila’s web site at www.kailaflexer.com.

Then Kitka performed—they did a bunch of songs in Yiddish, and some in Ladino with their trademark drones and gorgeous close harmonies. I’ve been listening to Kitka for decades and they only get better and more beautiful.

The last group was klezmer, with a clarinet player who made me want to learn clarinet, and an accordionist who looked like Gilda Radner and could recite reams of translated Yiddish song lyrics with ease. Carla was doing sound cues for the whole thing, from her wheelchair. Zellerbach auditorium seats about a thousand people and it was almost sold out.

I was kvelling about how Kaila had put the whole thing together, and how talented she is, she and my beautiful talented friend Catherine Rose who is one of the founding members of Kitka and still singing with them, and how much determination it took Carla was to be able to do the cues She was exhausted, after having been there almost all day. She’s amazing in her work ethic and her dedication and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It may be both.

I saw my Little Sister on Sunday and helped her buy gifts for her granny and her sister, took her out to lunch, took her back to the house and made hot chocolate and tried to interest her in playing. The one thing she wanted to do was mess with my make-up, so I let her—she wrote Love in crooked letters on each of my cheeks, used a prodigious amount of every color eye shadow I have, and just went to town on me. By the end I looked like the Joker. Then I was in the bathroom trying to wash my face and she kept trying to take more make-up even after I had declared the game over.

“No means no!” I barked in my mother’s voice.

“I was just playin’ with you,” she insisted.

That’s her way, this “just playin’” which can also be called pushing limits until I push back hard—and then continuing to test. I think it’s her ADHD that makes time with her exhausting—she veers around like a pinball in a machine, looking for pleasure and satisfaction but unable to alight on anything for more than a few moments. We did have some good moments in the store, after she had picked out her gifts and when she got a store clerk to wrap them in the wrapping paper she chose, and with the color ribbon she wanted—black for her sister “because she’s Goth,” she explained to the amused clerk.

And the make-up thing was fun until it got out of hand, and making hot chocolate was fun until she dumped half the cinnamon bottle into her cup, and, and…

I wonder about deBecker’s predictions, whether she’ll make it or not, whether she’ll end up on drugs or in jail, or lead a good life. They say having a positive interaction with an adult helps—and she has lots of loving adults around her, although she doesn’t have parents—but she seems attracted to, identified with the values of the street. When she gets in my car she always turns the radio immediately to a hip hop station, and turns the volume up to earsplitting levels until I turn it back down so we can talk.

As I drove her to the restaurant, she said, a propos of nothing, “I live in the ghetto. People be shoot, be rob, they be kill.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I was born in the ghetto,” she said. Then she said, “I am the ghetto.” I don’t know where she got that, if it’s a line in a song or what, but I reacted. “You are not the ghetto,” I said. “You are a beautiful little girl! You are not where you came from.”

She didn’t say anything in response. I’m not sure if my outburst was the right thing or not. Maybe I should have just asked more reflective questions…

C is on vacation and it’s lovely. He’s working on the in-law, and it’s still freezing in the house—I’ve been wearing the same pair of long underwear for a week straight--but we have time for reading, studying, writing, listening to music, talking about our honeymoon—even grocery shopping together is fun. He’s downstairs now, going over some math problems while I stay snuggled under the electric blanket, trying to finish the play. I wanted to be done by Jan 1 and I don’t know whether I’ll make it or not.


Anonymous said...

May you have happy holidays - with peace, love, and understanding.

All best...
p.s. read "Baggage: A love Story" in The Sun. great job! thanks for being a fantastic writer and inspiration to us all!!

Anonymous said...


I visit your site because of your connection to Carla. I appreciate your perspectives and adventures.

I read THE GIFT OF FEAR after it first came out. I too was amazed. It gives you a new perspective on people's behavior. I also took a course from a professor at Stanford on Guerrilla Management. It was all about how you MANAGMENT the world around you. There was a section on perception vs. reality. I felt it was related the GIFT OF FEAR because it is hard to figure out what reality is. Humans can be such great chameleons...coloring ourselves in ways that other will like us.

It is always refreshing to find people that are transparent (in a positive way...no hidden agendas).

Anyway my heart goes out to all of you friends of Carla, knowing you have your own lives AND THE PASSION/LOVE you show Carla.

Her story, her stories, her friends are an inspiration to the rest of us. I wish I had the chance to meet Carla...I did go to her last performance...amazing...what a voice, what a sense of humor, what courage and (it is the guy in me) what beauty.

She mentioned in her blog about guys having romantic fantasies about her. I remain objective and her story is heartfelt/sincere.

Keep up your great blog and your support for those around you. I try to do what I can...


Alison said...

Thanks, both of you Anonymouses. If I can continue to be interested in outside things while my friend is struggling with this huge challenge, it is due to Carla herself. She wants everyone around her to have a big interesting fun beautiful life. Other people in her situation might retreat from all that, but she encourages it, and lives that way too--on all cylinders. And yes, she is very beautiful--I'm not a guy, and I think so too.


Carla's blog is www.carlamuses.blogspot.com My computer doesn't want to let me post in my "links" place.

Laurie said...

Happy Holidays Alison! You echo my thoughts, how I feel in your writings. I also read The Sun and loved your story in the latest issue. Thank you for sharing so much with us and letting me know I am not alone with the way I think.

Morgan said...


Like you reading deBecker, I recently read your essay in The Sun Magazine "Baggage: A Love Story," and I'm ready to ask if I can work for you. What a moving piece. Like Christopher I lost my cat almost two years ago... so much of what you wrote hit me right where it counts. I'm going to my back issues and read more of your work. Such strong writing. Keep up the good fight.

Morgan Tyree
Powell, Wyoming

David S. Shearer said...


Your story "Baggage..." in this month's Sun, like most of your writing, was incredible. I have been partial to cats all my life. I've never claimed to "own" one. But I have found myself all so often in their debt, and servitude. So, I am glad for you, that you have found a partner that understands these exquisite beings as I do.
I also wanted to say thank you for sharing your life's journey as you do in your writing. It always rings true, and has brought me much comfort, joy, and affirmation as I make my own journey.

David S. Shearer

Alison said...

Thanks, you guys! For the record, Dede is still very much with us, tracking kitty litter into the bed and licking Christopher on the nose with her sandpaper tongue when she wants him to get up and feed her. We were told her kidneys were failing and that she'd probably die in the fall, but she didn't--she's gaining weight and seems very healthy alert and always on the lookout for new ways to score food and pleasure and love.

I wish all the same for you all in the coming year--food, pleasure and love in '09. May it be so!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for your kind words on my book Gift of Fear, and on my life too. I'm really grateful the work is of value to you - and I tell you get it. Regarding what you called an outburst (You are not the ghetto...), do no second guessing about your response/reaction. It was authentic, what arose is you is what you said - and we do not always get to better words through thinking about what to say. The authentic, in the moment response from your heart, from your gut -- that is what will reach that girl, and already has. No single sentence heals it all, but every single sentence is part of all, and what you said is perfect.

Positions at my firm are all filled these days - however you can do whatever you are drawn to, meaning if you really love forensic psychology, you can do it. One day, the story of your friend who laughed at the idea might itself be funny. Best to you and those who visit your site -

gavin de becker

Anonymous said...

Didn't mean to be anonymous: