(Negative) Bucket List

Although I love to make lists, I do not have a bucket list–and never will. They have always seemed oddly commercial to me, involved with spending money to attain culturally anointed experiences.

I did get to Japan (my kids did that, actually) And live in an artists’ residency in a freezing cold farm house. Was that a bucket list item?

No. I hardly knew that world existed.

And I’ve accomplished things, but I call those things goals. That is, they aren’t wildly aspirational but rather composed of quantifiable, attainable, things. For example, I’m apt to say: my goal is to do five events for this new book. Not–my bucket list is to win a big prize.

So, I’m going to create a NEGATIVE bucket list. Here goes.

  1. I won’t make up with my enemies, bad old friends, or difficult relatives
  2. I won’t need to ever have my appendix removed
  3. Donald Trump will not be president of the United States again

You can see why I don’t trust the efficacy of bucket lists.

The Quiet Raft

***Apologies subscribers if this was sent before. Software glitch so I’m posting again. MS

On the Quiet Raft

When I was in my mid-twenties, i had the marvelous opportunity to go down the Colorado River on a raft tour, along my father and brother. One day, someone—I think an Angeleno therapist—suggest that one raft be silent for the day. My dad and I both jumped at the idea. I probably get my love of quiet from him. What bliss—the cold dark green water, the walls of the Grand Canyon, and no idle chitchat.

What happened however was instructive. The quiet raft occupants were happy—the other rafters were not. They tried to get us to chat. Offered us beer to break our silence. Finally resorted to provoking a water fight. Somehow, they found our silence maddening.


“Why don’t you have a dishwasher?” my visiting cousin asks me, curious. I know where this is going. I’ll give some vague excuse, and others will extoll the virtues of technology and the conversation will fall flat. Substitute dryer, smartphone, television, or second car for dish washer and get the same conversation.

The simple—honest—answer is: I don’t want one. However, this seems unacceptable. I am missing out on contemporary life. Without accepting that this is my goal, others will try and correct me.

I personally try not to impose my own personal likes and dislikes on others. Do I tell you to meditate? To read enormously long 19th century novels? To do volunteer work? To put cream cheese on everything? No, I do not, because I know my taste is not yours.
And yet my (mild) distance from media is seen as alienating…somehow wrong.

One day in the Grand Canyon we stopped at Havasu Falls. There were nine waterfalls, and excitedly everyone forged ahead. “Let’s not go up too far,” my dad said. “It’s beautiful right here.” Indeed, it was psychedelically gorgeous—pools, green growth, lizards everywhere. We spent the entire day at the first few falls. It was its own kind of quiet raft.


I’m not a monk in a monastery or a hermit in a Chinese painting. I’m not off the grid, or even much of a Luddite. It is just that I need some part of my life to be on the quiet raft.
Please don’t throw buckets of water at me just because I choose the quiet.

Labour Poetry in China

One genre winning admiration from the literati is called dagong shige or “labour poetry”. Its most famous practitioner was Xu Lizhi, who worked on an assembly line for Foxconn, a Taiwanese firm that makes most of Apple’s iPhones. Before he committed suicide in 2014, at the age of 24, he had written almost 200 poems about the drudgery of factory work. Among the best known is “I Swallowed An Iron Moon”:
I swallowed an iron moon 
they called it a screw 
I swallowed industrial wastewater and unemployment forms 
bent over machines, our youth died young 
I swallowed labour, I swallowed poverty 
swallowed pedestrian bridges, swallowed this rusted-out life 
I can’t swallow any more 
everything I’ve swallowed roils up in my throat 
I spread across my country 
a poem of shame
Many workers’ poems refer to homesickness, alienation, injuries and powerlessness. A few deliberately evoke beauty, in jarring contrast to their bleak surroundings. In “Sundress”, Wu Xia—a rare female worker-poet, hired by a textile factory at the age of 14—writes of her love for the “unknown girl” with the means to buy the garment she sews. She also thus lays bare the elusive promise of social mobility that drives so many to the assembly line: Ms Wu, now 40 and a published poet, still works at a clothing factory.
The packing area is flooded with light 
the iron I’m holding 
collects all the warmth of my hands 
I want to press the straps flat 
so they won’t dig into your shoulders when you wear it 
and then press up from the waist 
a lovely waist 
where someone can lay a fine hand 
and on the tree-shaded lane 
caress a quiet kind of love…



I like to think about it, read about it, and talk about it. I like to take a risk. I like to win, too, but the taking is my main motivation.

Covid has radically changed the conversation about risk, but not in a way I find productive. And that is because the cultural conversation seems to set up some assumptions: there was no risk before the pandemic, and current risk is all about the virus.

Being born into a human body subjects us to risk. In the poem “White Shroud” Allen Ginsberg is sick in bed in China. He writes: “I made a mistake a long time ago.” I take this to mean having been born at all, and not deciding to go on a trip.

Stay home, or go to China. Either way, we all grow old and die.

Some risk isn’t really risk at all, but self-destruction. Drunk driving, for example. I don’t count it as risk because there is no potential gain, and it is a doomed enterprise. Not getting a vaccine is similar. It might carry a very small risk–and so does driving to the pharmacy for it. I don’t focus on miniscule risk because I find that more a product of my anxiety than my critical thinking. And there is nothing much to gain.

Risk involves the possibility of great success, and real failure. Artists and writers tend to live in this realm. But so do parents, even if without seeing it. Midwives I know socially told me in all honesty: childbirth is chancey. Babies die. No one wants to admit it, but having children is risky.

And that doesn’t even include raising children. And here is an arena where, in my opinion, taking many small chances is important. Letting children have freedom–physical, mental, and emotional. Not being too controlling. Letting them make their own mistakes.

Let me say right now, I’m not a very groovy or relaxed person. Anxiety is a big problem for me. But I know my fear isn’t an accurate reflection of reality. When my daughter Isabel was about eleven, she wanted to walk a few blocks alone to the bookstore. I was nervous, and asked her step-dad Rich to decide because I trusted his calmer judgement. He said: life is full of risk, and if she figures that out in this neighborhood, that is fine with me.

So off she went. Into competent adulthood.

Of course…anything can happen. I don’t quarrel when people tell me that, because it is true. However, alien abductors or Nazis in the neighborhood just aren’t very likely. Nor is getting Covid from a library book.

And, as anything can happen, perhaps that anything might be beautiful, like falling in love, expressing your full heart, or a good deed.

Grief Project

LOS ANGELES — Last Saturday morning, artist Cara Levine stood on a dusty hilltop in Malibu and staked one end of a seven-foot-long string in the dirt. She held the other end of the string taut in one hand and, using the string as a compass, walked in a circle. As she did so, she poured out a trail of crushed limestone powder from her other hand, marking the circle’s circumference on the ground. She then invited the assembled crowd of 20 or so people to pick up shovels and begin digging at the circle’s edge. 

This was the start of “Dig a Hole to Put Your Grief In,” a weeklong collaborative project conceived by Levine in response to recent traumas: the COVID-19 pandemic, the BLM movement, the social uprisings over police brutality, and the existential threat of climate change. “I was really at a loss in my studio about bringing any newness forward. I had a bodily desire to create a cavity that could contain the depth of the grief,” she told Hyperallergic.

The Storm: Poem by Miriam Sagan

The Storm

In the lodge
on Grand Mesa
old guys are playing cribbage
over endless coffee.

Mist hangs
from fir and spruce
rain breaks the current drought
although the lakes are still low.

The Polish proprietress
serves little tarts
filled with raspberry jam.

The old-fashioned
reproductions on the wall
are Rembrandt’s Aristotle
gently touching
the head of Homer
and a Romantic painting
my mother hated:
“The Storm.”

A man and a woman in gauze
rush through a tempest
but still are looking good.
My mother would say:
“the man is not
taking care of the woman.”

And indeed, once in the East Village
I saw my father
walk 20 paces ahead of her
in pouring rain
holding the only umbrella.

“Take care of number one,” he’d tell me.
Good advice
but he might have added
to it.

You were worried
I wouldn’t like Grand Mesa
arriving on a wet evening
animal heads
mounted in the lobby.

So I now must tell you
not only did I like
“The Storm”
when I was a child, I also
like being here with you.


Painted on the wall of a Colorado motel:

Wash your hands and say your prayers/ Jesus and germs are everywhere

At the cider factory: Violators will be crushed and destemmed

This little bug doesn’t mean anything in particular along the path…

And found in my purse, scribbled on a paper receipt, my monoku:

“in memory of my father eating only ice cream for lunch”


In SW Colorado. Maybe my husband Rich’s last name–Feldman (Farmer) isn’t a coincidence. We’ve been to nine farm stands. One Farmer’s Market to go. This was stand number seven.

We also made it on a rainy evening to the Palisades Peach Festival ice cream social. With a band in tie-dye playing songs written before any of them were born. A sweet scene.