I love colorful houses…and quirky houses…and dramatic houses, as well as Victorians, provided pains were taken painting the detailing. Recently, because the Marin “thoroughfare” has been under reconstruction, when the traffic is badly backed up on my way home from the pool, I’ve been swerving off into new neighborhoods I’ve never visited before. And what boggles my mind is that every edifice is different, even the most modest bungalows architecturally unique, except in the very rare instances that two adjacent ones mirror each other.

Yesterday I hid my camera in my trunk before my swim and on my way home took snapshots of a few buildings that caught my eye. Only a few, because it was sunny and, overall, there was too much contrast.

This is the first time in years I’ve photographed Berkeley residences—and the springboard was seeing, a couple of weeks ago, that the brush had been cleared away around a crumbling, derelict house only three blocks away from mine, making it clearly visible for the first time in decades. This is the house I’d always wanted to feature for my blog “Wasteland.” So I hurried out one morning between onslaughts of rain—I wanted an overcast sky as background—and as I stood in front of the moldering ruin, considering the best angle, it began to sprinkle. It turns out it’s actually inhabited, which I realized only the other day when I saw the postman putting something in the mailbox.

Now I feel inspired to start aiming my camera at more homes, though I suspect I may soon get so frustrated by all the intrusive elements—the ubiquitous trash bins, parked cars, telephone poles and wires, etc.—that I’ll decide it isn’t worth the effort after all.

OK, the brilliance of this particular paint job is a bit out of my comfort zone, but it screamed to be included.

I wish the stained glass window were visible in the photo above! This Episcopal church, in a rough part of town, has a black wire screen protecting the window. In the same neighborhood, I came across the house below.

I rather like this modernization of a witchy house, though a garden would have been nice.

I was so transfixed by the shingle work on the facade of this Victorian that I didn’t wonder until I saw the photo on my computer screen, But where are the windows? It must be awfully dark inside!

Cornell Ave. had a couple of big surprises.

So many variations on a theme!

What is that white thing in the garden plot? you may be wondering. It’s a paper cutout of two skeletal hands resting on the keys of an actual typewriter. Maybe the owner of the building is a ghost writer?

Confession: I spent a ridiculous amount of time doctoring this photo in Photoshop, including deleting the sheet-covered chair blocking the right side of the door and the dark stains all over the front steps and the potted cactus on the railing in front of the colorful hanging in the window. I also applied myself to articulating the design of this stained-glass hanging, which looked blurry and dull because it was partly in shadow. And I can’t even claim I did all this for sentimental reasons. While it’s true this Victorian is only a few doors down from the apartment house we lived in after my mom moved my brother and me to California, I don’t remember ever noticing it, though I would have passed it every school day for three years on my way to Berkeley High.

Another remodel I like.

For two months I drove past this house, hoping to take a photo of it without a car in the driveway. But no matter the day of the week or the time of day, the vehicle was always there. Don’t these people ever go anywhere? I wondered grumpily. Eventually I began suspect what I was only able to verify yesterday: they have two cars. But I had to have that window in my collection, so…

A few blocks down the street from the Victorian above is the house below.

I’ve been waiting for weeks for the painters to finish the job on the Victorian above!

I’ve also decided to post some of my previous photos of houses along my usual routes—so everything will be in one place, offering a glimpse of the variety of local the architecture, variety I didn’t see growing up in St. Anthony Park…

I had to include this house, renovated decades ago, because it’s so mysterious to me. I pass it three times a week on my way to the pool—and in all those years I’ve never seen a blind on any window opened or raised. On the rarer occasions I drive by at night, I’ve never detected any light within. Maybe the tenant is blind?

I took this photograph to showcase the disparity in wealth, even in a neighborhood like mine, where one homeowner has the wherewithal to renovate while his neighbor doesn’t.

I snapped this dilapidated building two streets away from mine for the same reason. For comparison, a half a block away from it is the Victorian below.

I’ve been wanting to take more pictures of dilapidated houses for my blogs about therapy, so I headed out early this morning when the sun would be shining—albeit through cloud—on east-facing facades.

Below are my most recent discoveries—in an area so far south of me I didn’t know I was still in Berkeley till I checked a map!




In A Patchwork Memoir I wrote:

The Drama of the Gifted Child has been the single most important book I’ve ever read, in terms of the impact it has had on my life. For years I could find no explanation for my ongoing battle with anxiety and depression, for the depths of despair I so often felt, for my failed relationships, and my inability to make a success of myself. I had done everything I knew to do. I’d excelled academically, tried therapy, different jobs, various living situations—I’d taken risks, I’d been disciplined, I’d persevered. I couldn’t understand why I continued to be so unhappy. My parents hadn’t been grossly abusive—I hadn’t been locked in closets, starved, battered, raped… What was wrong with me that I couldn’t seem to get a grip?

Miller’s short book was my introduction to the concept of a false or adapted self and a true self that has been sacrificed. When I understood that the loss of one’s true self is the greatest tragedy of all and that it happens, at least partly, as a function of a child’s sensitivity and capacity for empathy—that is, their vulnerability to unconscious misuse by their parents—I finally began to understand my own history.

I understood why, during my adolescence, I’d developed, as a response to my mother’s admonition “deprivation makes us grow, unless the deprivation is too great,” the notion that I was more heroic than other people—that my suffering would yield an advantage when I was older. And why in my early twenties I made the conscious choice to relinquish this form of grandiosity because I saw through it—because I recognized that, in my own case, the deprivation had been too great, that rather than making me strong, clearly it had crippled me. I also understood why I became so deeply depressed after surrendering this defense.

Now I could begin to see the ways my parents had, unknowingly, misused me. I had always felt I had to be the perfect child to buttress my mother’s shaky self-esteem; especially after my brother was burned, she’d needed a model daughter to prove to the world that she was a good mother, as well as to justify her vocation as a therapist. I could see how, for my father, I’d had to be the accommodating companion, the childhood friend he hadn’t had—who kept him company but made no demands of my own.

I understood that I’d had to be an independent and trouble-free child because neither of my parents could tolerate anyone or anything that impinged on them too much. I couldn’t have needs because neither of them could tolerate my having them. I couldn’t express any negative feelings because they couldn’t tolerate those either. My father was contemptuous of fear, incensed by anger, and dismissive of sadness. While my mother wasn’t contemptuous of fear, she was impatient with mine, threatened, perhaps, because it suggested I wasn’t as well-adjusted as she needed me to be, and, like my father, she was incensed by anger and dismissive of sadness—at least of my sadness.

When, after puberty, I could no longer be the perfect child because I was coming apart at the seams, my parents abandoned me emotionally. I think on some deep level I felt betrayed then—that I’d sacrificed who I was to be what they needed me to be, and now that I was in need, all they could do was blame and disparage me. I stopped kissing my mother “good night” around the time of the divorce—in my memory, though I could be mistaken, it was the night she assured me that after the divorce “nothing would change.” We never hugged again, either, until I began to initiate embraces as an adult. As for my father, my fantasy about my mother remarrying so I could have a new, nicer (step)father is testiment to how disillusioned I was with him.




She’d shut her door on me, Beth told me angrily at our next session, because I hadn’t formulated a request—told her specifically what I wanted of her. It didn’t occur to me till later that she had done exactly the same thing to me that afternoon—failed to articulate what it was she’d needed from me, i.e., a request.

Later I wrote:

“I want to tell Beth about that Friday, about sitting on that beanbag chair, trying to buckle my shoes to go, with fingers that didn’t work, suffering, wanting to believe the back she turned on me was not a dismissal, unable to interpret it any other way.

“Somewhere along the line, I learned never to ask. Perhaps I was refused repeatedly—or simply experienced people as intractable and situations as immutable. I know I experienced reality as a fixed system which disallowed any breaking or bending of rules. I know that one idea never had any reality for me—that I could change anything with a request, a plea, a demand… There would—could—never be any adaptation to me.

“So it’s been almost impossible for me to ask favors, to ask for accommodation. That’s why going to her office that Friday afternoon was so difficult for me. Why couldn’t she understand that I was reaching as far as I could, instead of resenting the fact that I couldn’t reach farther?”


I remember asking Beth on one occasion why she never expressed empathy for me. “Because it doesn’t do any good,” she answered. (Ah, but it does.)

On another occasion I asked why she couldn’t conciliate me after an argument. “Why should I?” she shot back. “Because I conciliate you,” I said.

Like my mother, when I told her about a problem I was having with someone, she would criticize me, telling me, “You’re rigid,” “You hear selectively,” “You just want to play ain’t it awful.”

Instinctively, I knew what I needed from a therapist, but when I tried to talk to her about it, she resentfully declared that I needed to define relationships and didn’t give the other person any room. Despite her lack of empathy, I kept trying to make myself understood to someone who, like my mother, was never going to understand me, and I might have gone on indefinitely—except that one day she announced that she was leaving county practice the following month, which meant I couldn’t afford to see her anymore.

I’d put away any anger I felt toward her early in our therapy together because she led me to believe that getting angry was immature. But when—during that last month, feeling betrayed and abandoned—I took finally the lid off, she threatened to throw me out of the session, which, also, was reminiscent of my mother, who on more than one occasion had screamed, “I just want you out of here.”

At our last session, when I was so overcome with grief I could hardly talk, Beth paid me the only compliment she ever did during the six months I saw her (if I really heard selectively, I shouldn’t remember it, should I?)—she said that I had courage.




In one of my early sessions with Beth, I said I felt like I was trapped in a vice:

“Beth is asking me, ‘What did you construct the two sides of the vise of?’ Turbulent impressions…I’m remembering stroking my own hair and cheek, as I would a disconsolate child’s, to quiet myself to sleep. I’m thinking, ‘She expects me to know.’ My little brother comes to my mother with sobs and this complaint, ‘I can’t start kindergarten yet! I don’t know how to read.’ How can I know something before I’ve had a chance to learn?

“My answer is a hedge—in more ways than one. She says I’ve done something or other again, and what I hear in her voice is not commendation. Ironic. Despite my efforts not to fail, I’ve failed…somehow.

“I struggle to make out nebulous obstructions. ‘If you’d said…’ She deprecates my suggestion. She chose her words deliberately, she insists. She’s sure of herself. Unfair advantage! Where is there a safe place? Yanking a flower, does it grow stronger or faster?

“One day long ago, I hugged Mrs. Unruh on the piano bench. She met demands, did not make them. She disarmed me with patience—divested me of the weapons I unwittingly use against myself—made it unnecessary for me to beat myself, like a dull or torpid or recalcitrant donkey that won’t go.

“Beth tells me I’ve misunderstood her intent. But how can I know what she intends until she tells me? Too often, I’ve felt like a suspect, muscled into a back room to be grilled, bullied, and intimidated. My mother was one who always demanded I give an accounting of myself. Out of flimsy alibis, I constructed a self-esteem like a house of cards.

“I’m trying to remember something Beth said to me the week before when I told her about John. I said it was like something ‘too big to swallow, that had left me gagging.’ It was ‘I think you set yourself up for disappointment.’

“I had said, ‘I feel every time I reach out for help I get kicked in the teeth.’ To make that statement, I’d had to clear a formidable hurdle of fear. Afterwards I’d flinched as though expecting a blow.

“What is it that I’m not allowed to express—my own craziness? Keep those psychic hobgoblins hidden, those two-headed, twelve-toed tenants of my head—bitterness, paranoia, self-pity. Must I then, always and only, manifest what is sane and sound and good and right?

“So I’m the one who constructed the vise—I’m the one who creates my own disappointments. A sense of culpability, like a powerful undertow, draws me down. I wish she wouldn’t make it all my fault. And to the extent that I am to blame—a child falls out of a tree and, broken and bleeding, is he to be told merely, ‘You did this to yourself. Now you’ll know better than to climb a tree.’ Will an object lesson bind his wounds and make him whole again?”

The other morning in the wee hours, I was sitting on the edge of my bed, sipping a cup of warm milk, hoping to put myself back to sleep, when I flashed on a family photo I’d recently discovered and inserted belatedly into my 9-23-19 blog “Dark Secret.” Below is a cropped version of it.

So Beth wanted me to believe I’d created the vise myself, I thought. Really? (Not only did my father have a tenacious grip on my mind for many years, evidence would eventually come to light that he’d likely sexually abused me too.)