Thursday, January 16, 2020


A friend sent me a Wall Street Journal article, "A Mysterious Balm for Mania." It reviewed a book called Lithium by Walter A. Brown.

The article, a history of the curious development of lithium, showed me how lucky I was to take that drug.

In New York in the '60s, '70s, and '80s, I'd been in and out of mental hospitals, in and out of therapists' offices, but nobody knew what was wrong with me. That's because I had a long cycle; years passed between bouts of mania and depression. Therapists treated one or the other but not  both.

Then, by chance, in a drug store in St. Louis I noticed a cheap yellow paperback about mental illness and I bought it. As it described what was then called manic/depression (now bipolar disorder), I recognized myself. I understood for the first time what was wrong with me. And the book stated that THE medicine for mania was lithium.

Back in New York in the fall of 1986, I showed the book to my therapist. She sent me to a pricey Park Avenue psychiatrist. He prescribed  medicine, but it wasn't lithium, so I went back and demanded it.

"People don't like lithium," he told me. "You have to get blood drawn all the time." 

But I insisted.

I'm glad I did, for the lithium worked. My mania is gone.

No more hallucinating on the New York city bus that I am Buddha.

No more meeting my friend Barry in a mental hospital - Barry who had  "accidentally" toppled six stories out of his hotel room now alive and well.

No more being held to the floor by two burly guys so the hospital nurse could shoot me up with thorazine.

No more refusing to let the cops into my boyfriend's apartment so they had to break down his door in order to haul me to the nut house.

Etc., etc., etc.

All gone.

What a blessing!

Thursday, January 9, 2020


I must break a vow to tell you this, but this won't be the first time I broke it.

It's 1969. I live in a commune near Massachusetts' Quincy Bay with my boyfriend Jon and with another couple, call them Richard and Barbara.

Jon, a Yoga instructor, hung out in Boston's Buddhist world so when he offered to teach me how to meditate using a mantra, I agreed. Soon I memorized "Om Mani Padme Hum" and learned to chant those words inside my mind. This mantra, beloved by Buddhists, means "The jewel in the lotus," the jewel being enlightenment.

One day Jon brought home staggering news. A famous Buddhist master, visiting Boston, had offered to give a personalized mantra to anyone who wanted it. 

Did we want it? All four of us went.

Once there, we waited in a long line. An attendant told us that, when our turn came, the master would whisper the mantra in our ears. That was customary, he said. We, in turn, vowed never to reveal the mantra, also a common practice.

Finally I stood next to the master, a large man with a big head of black and gray ringlets. He lifted the hair off my ear, leaned forward, and whispered: "Om Mani Padme Hum."  

That shocked me. I'd expected to receive a new mantra. Confused, I joined my friends.

We sat in a nearby coffee shop at a round table for four but said nothing. I felt eager to know if my friends received the same mantra as I had, but I'd vowed not to tell. So had they. Coffee cups danced on the table as we glanced at each other.

Barbara couldn't stand the suspense. "Om Mani Padme Hum! That's what I got. What did you guys get?"

Relieved we cried "Om Mani Padme Hum" and burst into laughter.

For a while, I thought the Master had deliberately deceived us. Then I realized that the personalization was his whisper into each individual ear, not the mantra itself. We had fooled ourselves into expecting an individualized slogan.

So I saw no reason to give up "Om Mani Padme Hum." By choice, it has been my mantra for fifty years. 

Thursday, December 12, 2019


I lugged the heavy book home from the library, hard-cover, 306 pages long. Like dozens of other novels I'd brought home, it promised a good read. I hoped. These days, if a book doesn't engage me by its first 50 pages, I'd just give up and return it to the library.


This new book had an odd title, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. Sounded like science fiction, not my favorite. The author's name, Elif Shafak, looked odd, too.

I skimmed the back cover blurbs: "heartbreaking meditation," "haunting, moving, beautifully written," and Hanif Kureishi's claim: "Elif Shafak is one of the best writers in the world today."

Normal exaggerated blurbs, I thought.

Inside I noted that Elif Shafak, a British-Turkish novelist, is the most widely read female writer in Turkey. She's published oodles of novels, been translated into 50 languages, has a Ph.D. and has taught all over the place in Turkey, US and UK. And so on. Impressive.

I open the book. The main character, Tequila Leila, a whore, has just been murdered and left in a dumpster outside Istanbul. Her heart has stopped but her brain is still active—for 10 minutes 38 seconds. She remembers her life and the life of other outcasts like her.

Okay, I get it. I start to read. I soon discover that Shafak writes a mean description of  Istanbul. I always know where I am, indoors or out.  She writes equally fine characterizations. Her people step right off the page. I never have to stop and flip back to remember who a character is. They just stay alive for me.

I'm well past page 50 and reading avidly. The whole Turkish world of outcasts, of whores, of transvestites, of artists, of protesters, rises off the pages. I'm excited. I sense that Shafak had pulled me right into the story, that the novel reveals not just the dregs of society, it also discloses something about me.

My exhilaration rises as I read. Will this book join the short list of books I have read and will never forget, works such as Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop; James Joyce's Ulysses; D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover; F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer or Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage. 

By page 203, I understood that it would. Then I did something I'd never done when reading a book; I burst into tears. Happy tears. Excited tears.

Now I've finished the book. Both Hanif Kureishi and I say, "Elif Shafak is one of the best writers in the world today."

But a word of warning. What is a terrific book for me may be, for you, one of those books you give up and return after reading 50 pages.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

On Brushing Teeth

My dentist convinced me that he wouldn't have to fill my cavities so often if I would just brush my teeth after eating.

So I bought a toothbrush and Crest 3D White toothpaste which promised BRILLIANCE. I asked my dentist if such cleansers actually whitened teeth. "Yes," he said, "but the paste must be ground in." Not much fun. 

Since I eat on the main floor, I thought I'd put my new brush and paste in the main bathroom, next to Paco's bedroom, but when I looked, I burst out laughing.

I use this bathroom, of course, but I had only three things in it: a hand sanitizer plus soap in the soap dish and a hand towel for guests. Every other available space—on the sink, on the back of the toilet, and all over the four shelves of a cabinet—was cluttered with hairspray, hair gel and beard oil, shaving kit, extra razors, scissors, nail clippers, tweezers, deodorant, prescription medicine, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, hair brushes, combs, shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen and face lotion, wipes and q-tips, and other personal hygiene articles.

Where could I put my new items in this jam-packed bathroom? Nowhere. Instead, I placed them over the kitchen sink on the window sill.

Then one day, Paco asked, "Why don't you put your toothbrush in the bathroom?"

I laughed. "Because I'd never find it again."

The next time I entered the bathroom, Paco had transformed it. A handful of items remained on the sink and toilet back. The rest he had shoved into the cabinet shelves.

A few days later, Paco caught me still brushing at the sink.

"You didn't put your toothbrush in the bathroom."

"What's the matter, you don't like it if I spit in the sink?"

"No, no. It's not that."

I relented. "If I put my toothbrush in the bathroom, I have to recall to brush my teeth. But with it here at the sink, I remember as soon as I bring my dishes into the kitchen."

We never discussed the matter again, but I noticed that personal hygiene articles did not trek out of their tight new homes in the cabinet. Instead, my toothbrush had swept clean an orderly new world in the bathroom.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Life offers multiple surprises. Take yesterday for instance.

In a hurry to buy a new Aveeno moisturizer, I stared at Walgreens Aveeno display of all shapes and sizes. But I couldn't see the Big One I wanted. Oh, hell, they all say "moisturizing." Any one must do. I grabbed a little boxed item. 

My first surprise came at the cash register when the cashier rang up $18 for that little box. $18!!! I bought it anyway.

That night I compared the $18 little box with the Big One I wanted to replace. Half the weight and twice the price.

I opened the little $18 box and pulled out a bottle. It looked nothing like my Big One; it even had a curved plastic beak.

Oh durn. Mistake. That's what I get for being in a hurry.

I put the bottles on my cosmetic shelf and went to sleep.

The next morning I decided to return the $18 Beaked Bottle and locate a clerk to help me find a Big One to buy.  I put my sample Big One in a bag, then grabbed the $18 Wonder and stuffed it in its box.

I couldn't close the lid, but I took it to Walgreens anyway.There on the big cosmetics counter, I unpacked everything.

The clerk, dressed like a gypsy in a flowing flowered gown, marched away with my sample Big One and returned with its twin. 

"Is this what you want?"

Surprise number two: Was it ever! Now where did she find it? Not on the Aveeno shelf.

Then the clerk picked up my $18 Wonder, now a little box full of a too-big bottle. 

"It doesn't even fit!" she cried.

I knew that, but the surprise was that she credited my card for $18 anyway.

Then she pulled the ill-fitting bottle out of its little box.

"Why look! It's not even the same brand."

I looked. She was right. The bottle label read Neutrogena, not Aveeno.

I signed papers and went home with my $18 credit, my twin Big Ones, both old and new.

That night, I couldn't sleep for wondering about this. I finally crawled out of bed, turned on the light, and looked for my half-used Neutrogena bottle. 

It was missing. I had packed it in the small box and taken it to Walgreens. In its place stood the new $18 Beaked Wonder that I'd paid nothing for.

An unexpected swop.


Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teaching Ruby to Purr

My orange tiger cat, Ruby, is a big cat, but she has such a little purr I can barely hear it. 

Not only that, but she hardly ever purrs, only when I slick the top of her head and not every time, even then.

"Ruby," I tell her, "it's not seemly for such a big cat to make such a little noise."

She rolls her eyes at me, but she says nothing.

The veterinarian says Ruby's purr is normal, and so does the humane society, but I disagree. What do they understand about social niceties? 

Obviously, it's up to me to teach Ruby how to purr louder.

First I trained myself how to make a low continuous vibratory purr, like a cat's but much louder. Then every time I stroked Ruby, I purred. Whenever she purred, I purred louder. 

This went on for weeks, but she didn't change an iota, except she laid her ears back.

Maybe cats don't learn from humans. Maybe I need another cat. I think I'll go to the humane society and pet kittens until I find one with an appropriate purr. Then I'll bring him home and shut him in a room with Ruby. Maybe that will work.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

OCTOBER 24, 1986 - 2019

no more booze or daily hits of Mary Jane
sober & clean for 33 years
you can do it; I did it

Marilyn June Coffey