What advice is useful and how do I decide how to use it?

Purchasing a kite
Purchasing a kite

My daughter Amelia calls over Skype from her apartment in rural Spain next to the Portuguese border. She is 23. “Look at this,” she says. The webcam displays a bandaged leg, a sprain resulting from playing rugby.

Amelia was born two months early in the D.C. hospital where President Ronald Reagan had been treated for gunshot wounds. Fortunately, Amelia was the second fattest baby in the preemie ward, first lying in her incubator between breast feeding, then one night forgetting to breathe.

[The librarian at the National Press Club helped me look up “sleep apnea” on the New York Times database; the Internet had not yet emerged for popular use.]

The apnea meant that upon hospital discharge for nearly a year Amelia was attached to a heart monitor, a bulky contraption that stopped her mother’s heart and mine whenever a false alarm went off as it did with some regularity.

Last year, I told Amelia I had finally forgiven her for being born early. I am not sure it is true. I am not sure whether I am joking when I say this. Certainly, I will never forget the fear at the time. Did I require advice for the fear? Would I have known what to do with good advice if offered?

There is strong sense of relief I feel now knowing my once premature baby plays rugby. Naturally, there is a part of me that wants to say after the fact, “You idiot don’t you know you can get hurt playing rugby?”


Amelia appears at the end of a video (no longer available) about her roller derby team.


Caution requires I abandon the pretense of spontaneity and nonchalance intended (or more accurately not-intended) to characterize these waiting –for-the-pathologist postings in recognition of a higher power. Sibling rivalry. I expect God created sibling rivalry on the Sixth Day of Creation (Friday), but I wish he had not done so.

Readers to this blog cannot help but notice a photograph of my elder daughter Joanna in her mother’s beautiful wedding dress. [Both my oncologist and psychiatrist attended my wedding to Diana.]

In October, I gave Joanna away in marriage to Jade Phillips riding her down the aisle in the power chair I had rented for the occasion.


The rules require I mention Joanna first before writing about her sister—rules established to provide harmony which each of my daughters break with impunity. Amelia, for example, has been known to issue at the dinner table the cunningly malicious lie, “Of course, I am Daddy’s favorite daughter.”

I have violated the sibling rivalry rules here for a variety of reasons.

  1. Joanna has already given me advice in the form of a ukase: “Dad, I know you won’t die because given all you have survived nothing can kill you.” I reject this advice even though I suspect despite my current pessimistic leanings she may be right. As Helen Reddy said, “My friends call me Cleopatra because I am the queen of Denial.”
  2. Amelia does not give advice. She listens. As I watch her listening to the darkness of my appraisal, I feel bad. Should I lie to avoid pain or tell the truth and thus inflict it?
  3. I require Amelia’s help for my column for e-architect. In my most recent column I wrote: “Future columns will also contain: My daughter Amelia’s quest for a photograph and perhaps even a video of Thom Mayne’s Spanish railroad station under construction near the Portuguese border.”

Thom Mayne’s BIM compliant Cooper Union appears at the end of the video.

So far, fear has paralyzed me from thinking about anything but doom and gloom. I bought a kite recently, but have not released it into the air. My addiction to Netflix videos has stopped giving me pleasure or even momentary distraction. [I highly recommend the Australian television series “Rake.”] What I grandiosely refer to as “my life’s work” namely adequate housing for the elderly and disabled appears to have been tabled.


I will return to architect Thom Mayne’s railroad station another time. Yes,  keep you in suspense except to note or perhaps hope that I am allowing optimism to creep into my consciousness.

Instead, I will end this posting with an answer to the question on advice. The only advice that has any meaning for me must come from within. My friend David Phillips called yesterday expressing frustration that the good advice he is capable of giving me, he had already given me before. I have known David a long time.

We met in 1965 at the bowling alley at Columbia College and over the years he has provided a lot of good advice, some of which I followed. He has also given me bad advice, some of which I followed. His current advice is excellent.

See the Buddhism section of David’s religion autobiography chapter http://www.radbash.com/pdfs/autobiography/018_Religion.pdf.

David expressed frustration that no advice he could offer provided comfort. I replied that for the immediate crisis simply caring is a comfort.

In my next posting:

  • Will, as promised, I answer the question: Is this period of waiting one of special significance where I decide the direction my life will take? [Double question mark.]
  • Will I digress and discuss Amelia’s quest to photograph a railroad station that has not been built yet?
  • William James said, “The reason that we pray is simply because we cannot help praying.” Who knows what will come next?

Amelia was born a year after I completed my second round of radiation treatment. At the conclusion of treatment, the technician gave me the lead shield that had protected my penis and testicles so I could have children. I suspect that somewhere that heavy object is being used as a paperweight.

When Joanna was born six years earlier, before taking her home, her mother and I detoured to the radiation treatment room where I had experienced the worst hell of my existence. I showed off my new baby to the patients waiting for treatment and to the technicians who had saved my life.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2014© by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

Procrastination and the Fear of Death

If a psychoanalyst, testing his associations, had suddenly said to Mr. Salter the word “farm” the surprising response would have been “Bang!”—for he had once been blown up and buried while sheltering in a farm in Flanders. It was his single intimate association with the soil. It had left him with the obstinate although admittedly irrational belief that agriculture was something alien and highly dangerous

.—Scoop by Evelyn Waugh

The title Procrastination and the Fear of Death does not quite describe the issues I want to discuss here:

  1. When I am in a period of waiting to find out whether I have cancer or not and how dangerous it might be, does it make more sense to be positive or negative?
  2. What advice is useful and how do I decide how to use it?
  3. Is this period of waiting one of special significance where I decide the direction my life will take or is it more prudent to hold fast to firmly held convictions and patterns of behavior until the immediate question of mortality resolves itself?
  4. Is this the time when I resolve a lifelong pattern of procrastination?

Does it make more sense to be positive or negative?

When I was 28, while showering I found a lump in the pit of my right arm. At the time, I was in therapy.

By way of explanation, I was taught psychotherapy at my mother’s knee. More precisely, I was in her womb when I attended my first therapy session.

My mother Miriam prided herself on being “a pioneer.” One example she used frequently was that she was a breast feeding advocate at the time shortly after World War II when formula feeding was the rage.

Miriam had a distressingly bad childhood. I believe it took considerable courage to embrace psychotherapy at a time when it was not fashionable but she badly needed help.

Why I found therapy beneficial is another story. This story begins with my telling my therapist that a surgeon had removed a tumor and I was awaiting the results of a pathologist. What do you recommend I do?

Dr. Weisberg (I always called him Paul) recommended pessimism.

He suggested I spend the waiting period reading Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying and familiarize myself with the five primary stages of death:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

[To peak ahead, consult Wikipedia’s helpful but incomplete entry.]

knightdure 469x600

Paul’s advice was eccentric, even a little weird. The odds were overwhelming—over 90 percent my oncologist said–that the tumor the surgeon removed was benign. After all, I was physically healthy. I even gave thought to riding my red Taiwanese bicycle three miles to the biopsy.

My well informed, but controlling oncologist Amiel Segal had told me: Relax, there is probably nothing to worry about. He added:

You are not crazy enough to see a therapist when you can talk to me.

Plus: Dump your girlfriend she is too old for you.

I decided to follow Paul’s advice.

By the time I learned I did indeed have something to worry about, I was fluent with the five stages; albeit, still stuck in denial.

In retrospect, it was not surprising I learned I had cancer in the waiting room of the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture.

At the time, I was covering food policy for The New Republic and the scheduled interview with Secretary Earl Butz was a real coup. While waiting, I dialed my telephone answering machine.

Dr. Segal had called several times leaving increasingly urgent messages. I called Dr. Segal (whom I thereafter called by his first name; a policy I pursued with subsequent physicians on the grounds they called me by my first name).

Amiel told me to get to his office immediately. When I told him I had an appointment with the Secretary of Agriculture, he insisted I abandon it.

The Secretary of Agriculture is more important than you, I said.

Tell me over the phone.

I can’t tell you over the phone, he said.

That is how I found out I had cancer.


Then there was my second cancer and my third. Now there is now.

Now I am not consulting anyone about what I should do during this waiting period. I am assuming the worst and would be pleased if I am wrong.

The second question which began this posting may seem to have been answered above in italics. Next, I will have more to say about: What advice is useful and how do I decide how to use it?

In case I have not mentioned it: This waiting period is tough.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2014© by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.




Many days, often many weeks, go by and no one touches me. Not a handshake. Not a friendly pat on the arm, not a hug nor a kiss. Alone.

Yesterday, Dr. Siddiqui asked for a second time, “You live alone?” surprised  as I get off the table on which he removed the tumor and onto my scooter. The nurse holds my arm, afraid I will fall even though I transfer well from table to scooter, from here to there, able to stand and move but not walk.

I like living alone. Generally. Of course, I would like…

Yesterday’s doctor visit is the first time I have been touched in a while—the nurse taking my blood pressure, the surgeon cutting into my belly.

I think of my neighbors here in the old age home where I live. Few receive a human touch as often as I which brings me to wondering how many of the elderly and disabled go to health care appointments primarily (albeit unconsciously) because they crave any human touch.

In my last posting, I boast Don-Juan-like of my love of women as if this is the only reason why I want to be remembered, not for causes of which I am proud nor work I have done nor my parenting two beautiful daughters in their 20s, nor the good men and women who have been my friends.

The experience of intimacy seems to have made all this; namely, my life possible, achievable, hopeful [pick a word that conveys rapture].

I do not want to examine this subject more closely except to note again that I am waiting in 6 days’ time (give or take) for a pathologist to make an Old Testament-style judgment—who shall live and who shall die.

The dictionary defines pathologist as “one who interprets and diagnoses the changes caused by disease in tissues and body fluids.”

In the past, I have had male and female pathologists whose signatures have appeared on my cancer diagnoses. “It is unheard of to see your pathologist,” a North Carolina physician I greatly trust advised me. I think of this specialist as Merlin, wearing a peaked hat in a spider-filled room next to the experimental rat cages peering into a microscope, considering….

For some forms of cancer, such as Hodgkin’s disease, the job requires years of experience differentiating among one cell form and another.

My first cancer around, the exacting oncologist explained that he sent my slides to the National Cancer Institute for review by “world specialists” because sometimes pathologists do not recognize the cancer when they see it because….

[I published a book on my first cancer, available for sale on this site, which not only will explain this but will put $10 in my pocket. The book highly recommends sex as helpful cancer therapy.]

This is the time of waiting when I am instructed to think “pretty thoughts.”

Pretty thoughts do not come easily to me when I am waiting right now. Nothing helps but to write. Prudence dictates I put these impulsive musings in a metaphorical drawer until I have had time to allow reasonable judgment to prevail.

It may not be prudent for me to publish impulsively as I have been doing. Nor would I recommend others to model themselves on my impulsivity. Instead, I rationalize doing so because writing now and pushing PUBLISH makes me feel better than any of the other palliatives recommended and readily available: meditation, prayer, exercise, and breathing.

On the subject of loving women, I recall a trip to China nearly 30 years ago where I was the spouse accompanying my pregnant wife who was negotiating a textile agreement.

While Diana negotiated, I was taken on a tour of a Buddhist temple. The guide asked whether I wanted to go to the shrine where people pray for their unborn children to be boys. I asked to pray at the shrine for a girl—which does not exist, but unhinged my guide’s poise.

Fortunately, both my children are female. I was raised by a single mother who in turn was raised by a single mother. Yes, I do have male friends.

For the most part, I prefer the company of women; I know the distinction between love which is not erotic and love which is and am comfortable with the appropriate boundary lines.

I love women.


Yes, I recognize that the issue of whether I live or die does not rest solely with the pathologist. There is the oncologist. There is a Higher Power. There is good luck.

Note: I am in no way repudiating Casanova. There is much to admire in his multi-volume diaries. There is Mozart’s opera on the master. Mozart too is a good guy.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright © 2014 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


When I lived in D.C. for 17 years, I followed local custom and saw a therapist. The District of Columbia has the highest percentage of people in therapy than any community in the U.S. The late Dr. Paul Weisberg, a brilliant and often helpful psychiatrist with an astonishingly eccentric streak, predicted in 1981 at a party “celebrating my graduating from therapy” that I would die a violent death.

Perhaps, I will die a violent death. Perhaps, I won’t.

Yesterday, Dr. Imran Siddiqui, a surgeon at Geisinger Medical Center, surprised me by performing a biopsy right there in his office. Instead, my referring physician had suggested the tumor would be removed at the hospital to which I consented on the condition that she would make sure I was issued green socks instead of yellow—a subject requiring too much explanation for now. Trust me. The issue of sock color had left me sleepless with good reason.

Today’s explanation instead focuses on Paul (or more accurately as a prelude leading to Paul) primarily because the subject of preparing for death in 1976 (prior to Paul’s gloomy prediction five years later) became the centerpiece of our therapy after I was diagnosed with cancer for the first time at age 28.

Now, at age 66 the subject reappears and I am considering my legacy, preparing to write my obituary early just in case. Yesterday, at 2:45 p.m. while inserting the tumor into the proper receptacle, Dr. Siddiqui said there is a 50 percent chance the tumor is malignant. He said I should think “pretty thoughts” until the pathologist issues his definitive ruling sometime next week.

Why wait? On my tombstone let it read: “Joel loves women.” Keep it in the present tense. Almost certainly in my next life, I will love women just as intensely—preferably one woman at a time.

It was, in fact, my love for a woman [let us call her Susan] that brought me to Paul’s seedy office on the border between Georgetown and K Street where currently stands a luxury hotel where decades later I met the President of Uganda.

I met Susan by chance late in 1973 after moving to D.C. from San Francisco in the hope of finding a Washington job gleeful at the prospect that Richard Nixon soon would be impeached. My finances were so low I took a vow of celibacy so as not to distract myself from finding employment by making love to a woman.

I walked everywhere carrying copies of my resume (and writing samples) distributing resumes throughout our nation’s capital, which then was free of security roadblocks, meeting lots of women who were receptionists at House and Senate offices and in office buildings where the directory indicated promising prospects.

At one especially promising office building in Roselyn, Virginia—a short walk from Key Bridge–I handed a resume to Susan, who was providing medical documentation to a drug company. Susan was sitting behind the desk at the reception area. She took my resume to the back office where after a lengthy pause, I heard her colleague say, “We don’t have any positions open. Since you find him so interesting, why don’t you go out with him?”

Later that evening, we met at her apartment in Georgetown and I broke my vow of celibacy. It was an easy vow to break. Several nights and days later, Susan—whose moral scruples on other subjects were not the same as mine—disclosed a financial scam she was planning to perpetrate.

Susan explained that she had slept with her previous psychiatrist. When the insurance checks arrived at his office, the psychiatrist gave her the money and their amatory relationship (not sanctioned by the American Medical Association) continued until he relocated to another town. To replenish the lost income, Susan was using the telephone book to search for another accommodating therapist—starting with the W’s and working her way backward up the alphabet.

While lying in bed and explaining her plan, she asked me for a favor. She had already met Dr. Weisberg who instead of agreeing stated she had serious emotional problems she should address instead. Insisting there was nothing wrong with her emotionally, she had scheduled a second appointment to which she invited me along. The logic behind the invitation escaped me, but a sense that this was an adventure appealed. Despite the pleasure of our dalliances, I did indeed suggest to Susan that it might not be a bad idea to work on her emotional problems—which had displayed themselves clearly—an idea to which she took umbrage.

Nevertheless, we appeared on the Tuesday at the 2 pm appointment where I first met Paul. Susan argued she was not crazy. Paul demonstrated quite convincingly she was—although he never used the word “crazy.” Throughout the 50 minutes, I disappointed Susan by agreeing with the logical enumeration of her issues. After the session, I decided that I had loved the wrong woman, told her so thus ending our relationship, and weeks later returned to my own therapy with Paul realizing I had issues of my own worth addressing demonstrated by having partnered up with Susan.

Why do I write about this while waiting for the pathologist to look at my slides and conclude whether I will die?

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright © 2014 by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.


It is 2:33 in the morning. I have an appointment today to see a surgeon to decide whether to operate—specifically to perform a minor procedure; namely, remove a small tumor from my belly.

As with the three biopsies I have had in the past, consulting a surgeon on whether to operate is a formality. Dr. Jennifer Simmons, who referred me to the surgeon, recommended I have the procedure as an overnight stay at Mt. Nittany Medical Center. I will lobby for outpatient surgery without spending the night in a hospital because I do not like hospitals.

Many of the hospital personnel at Mt. Nittany have become friends. Still I would prefer to reacquaint our friendship elsewhere. I have been a patient at Mt. Nittany three times in the past two years, many times in the previous ten years I have been living in State College.

A reasonable guess is the biopsy will happen next week.

Two of my past three tumors have been malignant despite overwhelming odds they would be benign. After a lifetime in which I have survived cancer on three separate occasions, I have learned to automatically evaluate my life chances by evaluating the odds.

This time I suspect the odds will not be with me on two fronts. First, I suspect the tumor will be malignant. Second, I suspect my chances of survival will not be good. I could be wrong. [James Branch Cabell wrote: “The optimist believes we live in the best of all possible worlds. The pessimist fears it is true.”]

I could explain the rationale for my gloomy prognostications, but it would be too complicated and would depress me.

Rather, as a layman who has researched cancer since my first cancer diagnosis at age 28, I will proceed one step at a time with the knowledge that what I do not know about the subject of cancer is considerable.

Two months ago, after I presented the tumor to my physician (presented being a word commonly used on medical charts) I took State College’s para-transit bus to Geissinger Medical Center for a CAT scan. I had canceled two previously scheduled scans because I had work to do which I regarded as more important.

My experience with medicine is that once I go to a doctor, I am trapped in a world where there is always one more test to do followed by the reality of considerable unpleasantness such as kidney surgery last year and radiation therapy several years previous.

I completed a chapter in a report on how to renovate a house so it is wheel chair accessible and an article suggesting that with over 90 percent of U.S. homes not being wheel chair accessible and with Baby Boomers already retiring at the rate of 10,000 a day for the next 20 years that the time has come to build new cities in America.

Meanwhile, my tumor, though still small, has increased in size and its texture has changed. After one canceled appointment with the surgeon, the time has come to see him today.

I am afraid.

–Joel Solkoff

Copyright 2014 © by Joel Solkoff. All rights reserved.

The new bard of Pennsylvania’s Rust Belt is Eric Church; this is our anthem

He comes back to his hometown for a funeral.

His hometown is devastated by decay, crumbling buildings, and burned out cars.

He sings “Thinkin’ about you sittin’ there sayin’ I hate this, I hate it
“If you couldn’t stand livin’ here why’d you take it, take it.”

There is pathos in Eric Church‘s voice because he could not take it. He left his hometown; now the hometown is gone.

Here in Rust Belt , Pennsylvania the small towns are dying.

I do not want small towns to die.


Damn, I used to love this view
Sit here and drink a few
Main street and the high school lit up on Friday night
Down there it’s another touchdown
Man, this year’s team is stout
I can hear them goin’ crazy
And up here so am I
Thinkin’ about you sittin’ there sayin’ I hate this, I hate it
If you couldn’t stand livin’ here why’d you take it, take it

Give me back my hometown
‘Cause this is my hometown

All the colors of my youth
The red, the green, the hope, the truth
Are beatin’ me black and blue ’cause you’re in every scene
My friends try to cheer me up get together at the Pizza Hut
I didn’t have the heart to tell them that was our place
These sleepy streetlights on every sidewalk side street
Shed a light on everything that used to be

Give me back my hometown
‘Cause this is my hometown

Yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah
Ah ooh, yeah, yeah
You can have my grandma’s locket
The knife out of my grandpa’s pocket
Yeah my state champion jacket I don’t care you can have it
Every made memory every picture, every broken dream
Yeah everything, everything, everything

Give me back my hometown
‘Cause this is my hometown

Yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah
Ah ooh, yeah, yeah
Yeah, yeah, oh, yeah, yeah
Ah ooh, yeah, yeah
Ah ooh
Ah ooh
Ah ooh
Ah ooh
Ah ooh


Published by
Lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Read more: Eric Church – Give Me Back My Hometown Lyrics | MetroLyrics

July 2014 Motto

Hippolyte_taine “Beneath every literature there is a philosophy. Beneath every work of art an idea of nature and of life…. Whoever plants the one,  plants the other…. Place in all the minds of any age a grand idea of nature and of life, so that they feel and produce it with their whole heart and strength, and you will see them seized with the craving to express it, invent forms of art and groups of figures.” —Hippolyte Taine