The other night we went to Book Passage in Corte Madera to hear Mark Epstein read from his new book, “The Trauma of Everyday Life.” Two of the women in our group had been patients of his (one of them claimed to have appeared in his first book, disguised as a lesbian painter), and Mark had once written something for me (a story about learning to juggle) that he later said was the seed for his best-selling “Going to Pieces Without Falling Apart,” which was fitting, since I don’t think I paid him anything for the piece and it was for one of those websites that no one ever saw.
It was standing room only at the bookstore, the combination of Buddhism and psychiatry being as irresistible to a Marin county crowd as cake and ice cream to a children’s birthday party, and while my wife has glommed herself on to the copy of the book we bought, I gleaned from the selections he read that he touches on what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe” of life — the cookies as well as the arsenic. The passages he read about his father’s death were especially moving for me, having lost my sister this summer. I was leaning on a table full of books in the back of the store, trying not to cry by scanning the other titles on the horizon, and I remember locking eyes with the "Barefoot Contessa" …
The end of the summer and the beginning of fall is a poignant time for a lot of people, in part because everything seems to be happening at once. Even the squirrels in my backyard are acting like they’re taking inventory and the boss is coming (hey, you missed some bulbs over there!), just as leaves are preparing to fall. One of my favorite Auden poems, “Musée des Beaux Arts,” was inspired by Pieter Breughel’s “The Fall of Icarus,” in which the catastrophe of the drowning boy is lost in the drone of the workaday world:
About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along …
My wife’s new office looks out on a green and spacious expanse, and the first week there she was delighted to see a pair of birds building a nest in the corner of the window. (Or, rather, the mommy bird built a nest while the dad sort of supervised, jingling the proverbial change in his proverbial pockets.) Eggs were laid, life began — until a work crew came and washed the windows and the nest away in preparation for a big event. For her company’s "celebration weekend." a few birds would never be born.