"Mirror Image" (Poisoned Pen Press) now at your bookseller's.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


A pithy little fable, for all you Sherlock Holmes fans out there (But I'll be damned if I can remember where I first heard it.)

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson went for an outing one weekend far north of London. They pitched camp, ate a rustic meal over a wood-fueled fire, and sat contently as night fell, smoking their pipes and talking about nothing in particular.

Finally, they decided to turn in.

Some hours later, Holmes woke up his sleeping companion and pointed up at the ink-black sky, dotted with hundreds of luminous stars.

"Tell me, Watson," Holmes said. "When you look up at the night sky, what do you perceive?"

Watson blinked awake and contemplated the heavens above them.

"Well, meteorologically, I can tell from the striations of cloud that the weather will soon turn inclement. Astrologically, I can see that Orion's belt has shifted a bit toward the horizon. Astronomically, I understand that those stars twinkling above are actually roaring suns, giving off tremendous energy. Chronologically, I realize that the distances between those stars and our world are so vast, the light we see now actually shone from them millions of years ago. And, philosophically, I comprehend that in the limitless vastness of the universe, man and his works are quite small and insignificant."

Then Watson turned to his friend.

"Now, Holmes, what do you perceive?"

Holmes sighed. "I perceive that someone has stolen our tent!"


I don't think a Zen monk could have fashioned a better story about mindfulness, and the seductions of over-intellectualizing the world we experience. Plus, it's funny.

Anyway, happy to share it with you. And if anybody has any information about the story's origin, I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


As the author of a forthcoming collection of mystery short stories (discreetly advertised just to the right of this post), I've been a long-time fan of TV crime shows.

So I was intrigued when TV Guide ran their listing of the 25 best TV detectives a few years ago. Though I had the usual complaints about some of the choices (for example, Charlie's Angels made the cut, while Jeremy Brett's Sherlock Holmes didn't!), I thought they did a pretty good job. I even agreed with their number one choice: James Garner as Jim Rockford.

How about now?

I mean, there's a fascinating new crop of detectives and crime-stoppers on the job, from Monk to Dexter, from series like The Closer and Saving Grace to Psych and--okay, it's a stretch--Reno 911. But are there any would-be classics in the mix? Shows that will stand the test of time?

What do you think of today's crime shows, and today's crime-catchers? Feel free to weigh in.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Quotes For Writers---And Those Who Love Them!

Over the years, I've collected some terrific quotes about writers and writing. Words to live by, as you navigate the perils and promise of the writing life. Here are some of my favorites:

"There is only one type of story in the world---your story." Ray Bradbury

"How do I work? I grope." Albert Einstein

"Good dialogue is not real speech--it's the illusion of real speech." Ernest Hemingway

"In the beginner's mind, there are many opportunities; in the expert's mind, there are few." Shunryu Suzuki

"All serious daring starts from within." Eudora Welty

"To believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men---that is genius." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Fiction reveals what reality obscures." Jessamyn West

"I write when I'm inspired, and I see to it that I'm inspired at nine o'clock every morning." Peter De Vries

"(Bad) writing is not easier than good writing. It's just as hard to make a toilet seat as it is a castle window. Only the view is different." Ben Hecht

"I have known happiness, for I have done good work." Robert Louis Stevenson

"Traveler, there is no path. Paths are made by walking." Antonio Machado

"I yam what I yam." Popeye the sailor


Well, that's a pretty good list---for a start. If you have any particular favorite quotes about writing, the writing life, or creativity in general, feel free to let me know.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Barack and the Preacher: What's the Crime?

Like many Americans, I watched Barack Obama's speech this morning about race and was, once again, inspired by his erudition, clarity of thought, and unwillingness to minimize his relationship with Pastor Wright. While clearly labeling the pastor's words as wrong-headed and entirely at odds with his own, Obama made it clear that the anger and resentment underlying those words reflected a legitimate expression of the African-American experience that stretches from slavery and Jim Crow, all the way up to today.

Furthermore, I think his speech highlighted an issue that has been viewed quite narrowly in the media, especially by the representatives of the pundit class: namely, why is it a crime to know or even like someone who expresses views with which you disagree? Frankly, this is a kind of guilt-by-association that has harmed many a good and worthy person in authority, whether running for office or not.

For example, I know many liberals who found the late William F. Buckley's views incorrect, or even repugnant, yet valued his friendship and erudition. Certainly, among the many praising epitaphs written since his death, most seemed to have been written by those whose politics veered sharply from his, yet treasured the fact that they'd known him.

I think each of us has had a relative, teacher, or friend whose qualities as a person made a powerful impression on us. Yet--and with doubtless great remorse--this person's views about certain subjects began to create a serious rift, to instigate a growing "parting of the ways," that--while regrettably necessary--didn't invalidate all that we'd learned or experienced in relationship to this person.

Frankly, I believe the "crime" that Barack Obama has committed is simply that he's reinforced the reality that, despite the transcending of race that his campaign represented, he is in fact an African-American. For him to eschew this, and thus deny the myriad injustices, attitudes, and ancestral experiences that forged his identity, would be the worst type of pandering.

Though clearly not as bad as the kind of racist pandering this whole sorry episode will give rise to. Listening to those same pundits evaluating the effectiveness of Obama's speech today, and for the most part lamenting that it might do little to make this crisis go away, my heart sank. Because I thought his speech showed a degree of statesmanship, honesty about his own and his people's experiences, and acknowledgment of how far this nation has yet to go to heal its racial divide, far beyond that of most politicians today.

Can you imagine, for example, George Bush delivering such a thoughtful, candid speech? Or John McCain, whose reputation as a moderate and independent thinker is shrinking daily as he panders more and more to the Religious Right?

Okay. So Barack Obama had a long, intimate relationship with a pastor whose unfortunate racial rhetoric, on occasion, has reflected his post-WW II generation's experience of intolerance and bigotry. Whose intemperate words reflect the frustration of a whole group of people, whose struggle for freedom goes on even today.

Where is Obama's crime in this? Is he responsible for what another man says? Is he to be held accountable for another man's frustration and bitterness? Even for another man's seeming prejudice?

I suppose we'll just have to await the verdict of his jury, the American electorate. A jury of his peers.

Or at least I hope they behave, and react, as such.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Gabriel Byrne: He's No Hannibal Lecter!

A lot of my therapy patients watch the new HBO series, "In Treatment," and many wonder how accurate the portrayal of the therapist is. Paul, the therapist, is very well played by Gabriel Byrne.

But is he really representative of what therapists are like? Do most therapists have similar struggles in their personal lives?...with their relationships, their children, their sense of themselves?

The answer is simple: therapists are people, and people have issues. Therapists, like everyone else, handle some issues better than others. Therapists, like everyone else, are both insightful and clueless, sometimes in awareness and sometimes in denial, have good days and bad days. Nobody has the key to a stress-free, problem-free, issue-free existence.

In other words, no matter what the self-help gurus say, there's no cure for life.

So I guess I like that the therapist Byrne portrays is a flawed, conflicted person. Even when he does (and says) things that make me wince. Even when he's too intrusive with his patients, or too knowing. Hell, even when he seems like a selfish, self-pitying jerk.

Why? Because at least he's not depicted as diabolical, manipulative, and psychotic. Or, worse yet, homicidal.

Think about it: have you noticed how often male therapists are used as the villain nowadays on TV and film? Hollywood used to see male therapists as models of the patriarchal system: wise, nurturing, compassionate. Like Claude Rains in Now, Voyager. Gregory Peck in Captain Newman, M.D. Lee J. Cobb in The Three Faces of Eve.

So how the hell did we get from there to Hannibal Lecter?

Well, I happen to have some thoughts on the subject... If you're interested, you might want to listen to the Commentary I did for NPR's "All Things Considered." Here's the link:

Click here: NPR: A Male Therapist on Screen? Odds Are, He's a Heel.
Let me know what you think. --Dennis

Dennis Palumbo
15300 Ventura Blvd., Ste. 402
Sherman Oaks, CA. 91403

Phone and fax: 818-386-2070, Email: dpalumbo181@aol.com
Website: http://www.dennispalumbo.com/

Friday, March 14, 2008

Barack? Hillary? SpongeBob? WHO CARES?

If there's one thing all the pundits agree on, it's that this presidential primary fight has ignited the nation. More people are involved, debating--and voting--than ever before.

Except, it turns out, for some people. Which means...what, exactly?

Funny you should ask.

As a therapist, I read a lot of professional journals. Recently, one of them proposed that a new category of mental illness be added to the DSM, the clinical manual used by most therapists. They want to call this new condition Political Apathy Disorder, and its main symptom is showing a lack of concern for human suffering in the world.

In other words, you're not just an insensitive jerk, you're sick.

Do you have Political Apathy Disorder? The answer is a resounding Yes!--if, for example, you refuse to vote or, fail to consider the impact on the environment when making a purchase. Or buy something you really don't need, just because you like it.

Other symptoms include acting in an "elitist" manner--whatever that means--and telling ethnic jokes. Believe me, I wish I were making this up. But even as we speak, people with Ph.D's are actually debating whether to add this diagnosis to the growing list of things that might be wrong with you, that you didn't know about.

For what it's worth, I'm against it.

True, refusing to vote may be irresponsible. Perhaps a shirking of your duties as a citizen. But evidence of mental illness?

My concern here is with this growing trend of assigning diagnostic labels to literally every human behavior. And we're starting 'em young. For example, we've spent the last two decades diagnosing an increasing number of children with Attention Deficit Disorder. (Which, by the way, has already become passe. Nowadays, the fastest-growing diagnosis for kids is bipolar disorder. I guess that means screenwriters and rock stars will just have to come up with another one.)

What's next? Will we soon be labeling "problem" children as sociopaths, because they can't empathize with another kid whose toy they took? Or don't show sufficient remorse for licking the icing off their brother's birthday cake?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting we throw out the whole system. But let's face it: diagnostic labels exist for the convenience of the labelers. And that's fine. There's nothing wrong with convenience. Or with a common language that enables all us clinical geniuses to talk with one another.

But it makes me wonder: does every trait, behavior, or private thought have to come with a label? In our haste to understand the human condition, do we want to smooth off all the edges, quantify all the quirks? Should we really reduce the many contradictions that make up an individual's personality to a category in some manual?

This isn't a rhetorical question. I really wonder about it. A lot. So much so, in fact, that it might indicate the need for a new diagnostic category: Pervasive Wondering Disorder.

I can imagine others: Excessive Daydreaming Disorder. Insufficient Outrage about Eliot Spitzer Disorder. Or how about: Dogmatic Belief in Diagnostic Labels Disorder.

Bet they won't put that in the manual.

But, really, where will all this labeling end? (A question, no doubt, symptomatic of Apocalyptic Obsessional Disorder.)
Or am I making too much of the issue? (Reflexive Self-Invalidating Disorder, with Mixed Emotional Features.)

See what I mean? That's the trouble with labeling. Once you get started, it's damned hard to stop.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Eliot Spitzer: just another Crime of the Heart

Why do people do the things they do? Good question.

As a former Hollywood screenwriter (My Favorite Year; Welcome Back, Kotter, etc.), now a licensed psychotherapist and mystery author, I figure I have as much right as the next guy to weigh in on the former governor of New York. Let's face it, Spitzer's story has everything a blogger could want: sex, crime, the downfall of the powerful, and a spouse standing by her man.

Not to mention the prostitute alleged to have been involved with Spitzer. Another case of Instant Celebrity: just add Fox News and stir. She's already being showered with book deals, talk show offers and speaking engagements. It wouldn't surprise me if she got her own cable reality TV show (maybe co-hosted by Heidi Fleiss?).

Wait a minute, I think I'm onto something...Get William Morris on the phone!

By the way, Instant Celebrity is just one of the things I'll be blogging about here---as well as creativity, the media, and psychology today. Or the latest trends in mystery and crime fiction. Or politics. Or---well, you get the picture.

I'll also try not to join the growing crowd of bloggers whining about the End of Western Civilization. Not that there isn't plenty of evidence for it. Like this current frenzy over Governor Spitzer. God knows, we've been here before. Where you don't know whether to laugh or cry. Where it's either another sad commentary on the human condition, or just more stand-up fodder for Leno and Letterman.

But what if it's neither? As the title of Beth Henley's play suggests, we're probably all guilty of "crimes of the heart." At least one time or another. So rather than make jokes about the Spitzer marriage, or demand that Mrs. Spitzer get a divorce, or guess how many times the word "hypocrisy" will be tossed around by media pundits, I'd rather just say this: let's hope the sorry couple get the professional help they need, and that the rest of us stay the hell out of their lives.

After all, don't we have our priorities screwed up, anyway? I mean, it's okay to lie to us about the reasons we're going to war, but our moral outrage is triggered when a penis goes astray? I guess that's one way to keep Iraq out of the headlines.

But that's just me. What do you think? Feel free to let me know.

And stay tuned.