Thursday, March 29, 2007

Ah, beautiful warm email from my sweetie...five more memoirs to read. Life is good.

My 83-year-old student is producing wonderful poetry at a great clip. I said to her, "Joan, you're on a roll!" She shrugged and replied, "If not now, when?"

Yesterday, a second grader wrote "W hugs the whole world," which I think would make a great title for the book I want to write about teaching poetry in the schools--either before or after the book I want to write about sex and chocolate and children.

I heard a wrenching interview last night on NPR about kids forced to work in the cacao trade for pennies, as well as children sold into sexual slavery. Maybe it hit me harder because my own love life is blossoming after long dormancy. Why do we take the sweetest things in life and ruin them? What possesses us?

Just fielded a call from my synagogue; they want to talk to me about the Terumah project, i.e. they want to hit me up for money to purchase the building. But I'm already giving and giving time and energy and money to Interplay. I love my synagogue and I want to support it. But I want to go to Africa more. I'm spread too thin among spiritual communities, and each of them are important for different reasons. This is why I could never be polyamorous. It's complicated enough being me working in all these different schools and attending to all these different projects. In fact I wrote a poem about it last night in class:


The thought of it makes my spit dry up,
my armpits itch.
I want my wine undiluted,
my morning whole as an egg.
I want you beside me, skin warm,
wiry arms wrapped around my waist,
holding on for dear life.
Or one room over, splashing in the shower.
Or downstairs, making coffee
so strong you could stand a fork up in it.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Holy laughter was the theme for Saturday. First David came into my room with a great story about how he'd gone to check out a local bar the night before, thinking he'd like to find a neighborhood watering hole where he could just hang out and make on Cheers.

This place he found looked to be a good bet, it was close to our house, and there were attractive women fact, there were a lot of women there. Well, nothing wrong with that. Some of them were really attractive, he reported, while some others were...kind of butch. Actually, on second glance, there were only women in this place--except for David himself, who still didn't get it.

He paid his $10.00 cover charge--the place was called Velvet--Nice name, he thought. As he sat at the bar, drinking a Guiness, and as the place continued to fill up with women, pretty ones and butch ones, it finally hit him. At this point, he tried to leave, but the people at the door were friendly and encouraged him to stay. Back at the bar, another beer appeared in front of him. A cute African American woman had bought it for him. "You look as uncomfortable as I feel," she said.

He ended up hanging out with her that night, dancing with her, and they are becoming friends. I love the Bay Area.

Then G and I finally had our long-awaited basketball game. I'd been trash-talking for months about how great I am at b-ball, how I was going to bury his ass, etc. He went out and bought a ball at Target for $16.00 and we took it to the courts near my house and...I sucked. I mean really sucked bad. I knew I wasn't as good of a player as my bragging but I was even worse than I remembered. Couldn't get the ball through the damn basket even when I was standing under the thing.

It was a tiny little court with kids playing. One of them, a boy named Shaquille, just joined our game without even asking. Just walked in, grabbed the ball, and started shooting. G and I looked at each other and shrugged. He was a cute boy, good with the ball, and took to G like a tic on a dog. We changed up from "Horse" which I was losing at to "21" which I lost at even quicker. I went to Defence, my specialty (read: foul), but mostly I enjoyed watching the boys play.

G's got the moves, he can jump, fake, twist, all that great stuff. Shaquille wasn't bad either, for his age, but he'd have to stop every once in a while because of his asthma. "Dang," he said, "You folks is wearing me out and I'm younger than you." When G got a bunch of 3-pointers in a row, he told him, "I'm getting tired of you." But he loved dogging G, loved snatching his rebounds, and coming up against the solid wall of the older man's body.

I thought he was 14--he's a tall kid, almost as tall as me--but he told us he was 12. What was most beautiful was his laughter. It was still the laugh of a child, like a clear waterfall, just bubbling out of him. He laughed every time I guarded him, partly because it was so funny to have a white lady in his face windmilling her arms (I admit, my technique could use some work) and partly just for the joy of it. His laughter was infectious.

All the while we played, Shaquille's younger sister--she must have been about 5 or 6 was riding her bicycle right in the middle of the courts. She'd scream "Excuse me!" or she'd just scream, demonically, and go charging right through the middle of the action on her pretty pink bike.

Then, later, C and I went with some Wing It! folks to see Beauty and the Beast at the Alameda High School. Everything made us laugh; the fog machine, the dancing knives, forks, spoons, and plates; the villain's untimely demise over a strategically placed set piece.

And then later that night the laughter continued...holy laughter.


Lest anyone think it's all beer and skittles out here in Poetryland, I also have to report that this morning I found out that my ms. See How We Almost Fly was AGAIN not chosen by CSU Poetry press for publication. Aaarrggghhh!!! This is heartbbreaking!! I have been trying to publish that book for five or six years, half the poems in it have been accepted for publication in magazines and such, some of them have won prizes, and I still can't get anyone to take the book. If it weren't for that damn break-in which set me back 6 months, I think I'd have it accepted by now.

Oh, and once again I did not get accepted into the Stanford program, which I was ambivalent about anyway, but 30,000.00 a year sounded like a nice ride.

And Tikkun called this a.m.--they love the essay about Barack Obama I sent them last week, but they don't pay any money! None. Not one penny. It's all for the glory. And I'm trying to raise several thousand dollars to go to Malawi this summer. Fuck!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Deep in the stack of student's fantastic, really, like diving into a cave. Wonderful variety. It's just a lot.

The plumbing crisis resolved, we then had a lost dog crisis as my housemate's dog Vinnie slipped out while Oscar and I were futzing with pipes and hoses and propane torches. Twenty-four hours, very little sleep, and some tears later he was found and all is well again.

I was woken up this morning by the chirping voice of Theo, my almost-8-year-old nephew on the phone. I love the way he just says "Hi!" when I pick up the receiver, as if of course I will know it's him. Which of course I do.

He was calling to thank me for the little play I wrote for him and his sister and his girlfriends across the street. It's tricky to write in a part for a 3 year old, but all I have her do is sing Twinkle twinkle little star and roll around on the floor, which I'm sure she can handle.

I swam half a mile yesterday--was pleased I could still pull it off--and no soreness today! There were some retired black ladies in the jacuzzi near where I was swimming, talking about pacemakers, and Jesus, and what a blessing it is to find work as a health aide because you're helping people. "I'm enjoying every minute of it," one of them said.

Another one, a large woman, kept saying, "I just thank the Lord I'm vertical. That's all. Thank You for getting me out of bed this morning!"

"Thank you Jesus!" agreed her friend. "And thank You for giving me a girlfriend who will drag me to the gym!"

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Drains fixed!! Oscar got the frozen nut off the side of the house using WD40, a propane torch, and then the pipe wrench--with pipe. When the thing finally gave a little, it felt like turning the steering wheel on the Titanic.

Black sludge poured out of the opening. He used C's snake and got some of it out, then took the hose and stuck it up inside the house and the black river continued to flow. What looked like little tiny pebbles, fossils, dessicated animal parts, Jimmy Hoffa--were in the tide. The smell wasn't as bad as I feared--kind of musty and swampy, but not obnoxious.

He worked the hose in a good twenty feet up and flushed and cleared for almost half an hour. But when I went inside and filled up the kitchen sink, all the water flowed down the drain beautifully, just as God intended.

If I had known that solving a p0hysical plumbing problem could feel this good, I wouldn't have wasted my time on poetry, I would have gotten a license and set myself up with a second home in Mallorca by now. Of course I think the fun was because of my dream team. Now back to a big batch of student memoirs to read and write comments on, a play to write for my almost-eight-year-old nephew, and a couple of poems and an essay half-formed in my head. Just found out The Sun has taken two more poems, "Willing" and "Looking for Work."

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Surrealism in the second grade (now that's redundant...)

One boy writes, "My gradpa is as old as the Year 1. He plays weird old fock (sic) music but I love him anyway."

Tension and jelly beans in the teacher's room. Cherry trees outside burst out in their prettiest pom poms. The air smells like honey. A fight between the music teacher and the school secretary about his unauthorized "borrowing" of the school piano for six months. And a tiny political discussion: one of my most supportive teachers says she doesn't think the Dixie Chicks should have said what they did (I'm ashamed the president is from Texas,) because it showed disrespect.

I said that if someone wants my respect he needs to not execute mentally retarded people, steal elections, or lie to the country about weapons of mass destruction as a pretext for a dirty war.

Someone else chimed in with "I guess there's no respect for the Presidency since Clinton."

"No, since Nixon and Watergate--he destroyed respect for the office."

"Listen," chimed in another teacher. "All of them have done corrupt things. There's not a single president in the twentieth century who was not corrupt." (I would disagree. I think Jimmy Carter was clean as a whistle, and smart and ethical, and skillful as well, if Congress and everyone else in Washington hadn't been against him. G and I argue about Carter on a regular basis.)

"Well," said one of my most supportive teachers, a woman who has been teaching second grade since the year 1, a woman who let all her meat and dairy products in her car spoil when she received a friend's phone call from the emergency room while grocery shopping. "I just think children need someone to look up to. They need heroes."

"Sure," I said. "There are plenty of people who would qualify as good heroes. Martin Luther King..."

"I mean someone who's alive," she said.


Okay: who are my heroes? Barbara Lee, for sure. Not many other politicians. The late Paul Wellstone. I'm looking forward to having Barack Obama be my hero, but I'm still wary, like a lover who's been cheated on too many times. TAs the election hoopla begins its inexorable opening notes, I am almost physically shuddering.

I know this is whining, and I vowed not to do it anymore, but I don't think I have ever really recovered from the 2000 and the 2004 debacles. Even though I had long ago left off idealizing presidents, I still had this unexamined faith in the great American democracy. I thought every vote counted and that the counts would be fair. That faith is gone, and like virginity, I doubt I can get it back.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing that I am disillusioned with electoral politics--there are still many people left to admire. The woman profiled in There is No Me Without You, Haregewoin can't remember her last name, the Ethipian woman who took in hundreds of ADS orphans. Melissa Fay Greene who wrote the book about her. Paul Farmer, sho set up a free health clinic in Haiti. What's his name the head of, the philanthropical arm of, who used to be the head of WHO. Angelina Jolie (I know people will think I'm a PEOPLE-magazine-crazed naive fan, which is true, but she is a hero to me. Bill and Melinda Gates because of the work their foundation is doing to eradicate disease in Africa.

It seems there are plenty of heroes. My most supportive teacher, who is lobbying the PTA to double my sessions at the school, thinks we should teach children to respect the office of the presidency. I have a knee-jerk tendency to disrespect it, to disrespect authority in general in fact. And is that so good? The Dalai Lama would say to respect everyone, George ZBush is my greatest spiritual teacher, blah blah blah.

The best I can do at this moment is to try and be more civil and less of a self-righteous lefty know-it-all when I'm talking to people who hold different political views than my own. G has helped a lot with this by disagreeing with me on many important issues. I can try to tone down the strident language a notch or two and to entertain the idea that even Repyublicans might have intelligence and ethics. I'm not there yet, exactly, but I am trying. Very trying.

I wrote two poems yesterday--both strong. Strong and disturbing. It's taken six years since my mother's death to begin to begin to be really honest about the rage and when I do I have an immediate terrified reaction, like I'm a bad girl and no one will love me now. Last night I dreamed I had been feeding baby tigers and now they had suddenly grown up and were going to turn on me. After I got them subdued with a tranquilizer dart, my room filled with exotic poisonous African snakes--pythons and pylons (are those African or Indian?)

And now Oscar's here with a pipe wrench, and the bolt's still frozen...

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Yesterday was my mother's Yahrzeit, the anniversary of her death in 2001. My sister and I had agreed we would say Kaddish together and I was trying to reach her in the little time slot we both had available, her on the East Coast, me out here in California. Five o clock in the evening my time, eight o'clock her time.

Meanwhile, the drains in my kitchen sink have been disgustingly slow. Every time we wash dishes the greasy dirty water stays for half an hour afterwards, finally receding to leave a ring of gross sludge. C., my new dating-guy, proved his generosity and stamina by coming over at four with a snake--a plumbing snake, not the other kind--and spending an hour and a half sticking it up various pipes. He got black goo on his hands and the snake, but nothing dramatic emerged; we decided the blockage was further down, down where the snake couldn't reach.

While he was doing all this I was making dinner: chicken, a salad, potatoes, green beans and garlic, and trying to reach Emily. I called her at her home phone, on her personal cellphone, on her work cell, and left messages. Finally I called over to her ex-husband's house to see if she were there.

He had all three kids that night, so I spoke a little with Noah, and then gibberish with Eli, and then three year old Lucy grabbed the phone to tell me she was wearing purple p.j.'s, that she had had chicken for dinner, and that she was going to watch a "flamily movie" with her bruzza and her uzza bruzza. I could so picture her, damp from her bath, in her purple pjs, all round eager brown eyes, and naughty smile, that I felt a physical longing to hold her.

C and my housemate David were trying to wrest off a huge bolt on the side of the house where the water drains out (I forget what it's called, the clearance, or the slippage, or something technical like that.)

I boiled water in the tea kettle and poured it over the frozen bolt to no avail.

We discussed going to the Tool Lending Library in Berkeley and getting a pipe wrench.

Emily finally called me; she had been at a vigil to commemorate the fourth anniversary of this filthy war we are in, and she had brought her Yahrzeit candle with her. She had brought it with her to work that day as well, and kept it lit through two meetings, explaining to her colleagues that it was in memory of our mother and also the war dead.

Undoubtedly Mom would have approved; my best memory of her was when she took me to Washington, D.C. to protest at Nixon's Inaugural in 1973. We wore black shrouds and painted our faces white to represent Vietnamese casualties, and marched through the icy streets of Washington with throngs of other protesters. Mom went to every anti-war vigil she could get to, and often stood out on the green for Amnesty International as well.

Of course I felt guilty because I hadn't remembered to go down to the Jewish store and buy a Yahrzeit candle--I never remember to do it. Year after year, on March 19, I am too busy. I remember Mom used to keep Yahrzeit candles burning for her grandmothers, neither of whom she had even met. My sister-in-law who is not Jewish got one for Mom, but I didn't. And I couldn't have a long conversation with Emily, who I think genuinely misses Mom sometimes--along with all the other complicated feelings that her memory brings up-- because C and I had just sat down to eat after hours of plumbing exertions.

The stance of the women in our family towards each other is yearning. When I was little I yearned for my mother and she was too busy, and too defended, and toofrightened of my intensity. She turned away. Years and years later she yearned for me, and I was angry and sad and terrified of her infinite pain and I turned away. My sister and I yearn for each other and there is too much life; her work, my work, her kids, my theatre, friends, lovers, classes, schedules.

She called me this morning and it was good--we managed to talk for fifteen minutes while she drove from one meeting to another. C and I had a nice evening just enjoying the garlicky meal and then wandering the streets of Berkeley, hands clasped, looking in windows and talking.

There is not enough time and yet each minute is infinite. That is the mystery we are all living.

I don't know if I am still grieving my mother. I feel like I grieved her her entire life, that I was always grieving the connection that was just out of reach. Now when I think of her sometimes I grieve that we didn't get to enjoy our lives as women together. Joy and pleasure are such vulnerable emotions--I felt too guilty and ashamed and freaked out to experience them in her presence.

I am not grieving and yet at one point, talking to C about intimate things I felt my eyes fill. It was a relief. I never cry for my mother anymore.

Today, I called the Tool Lending Library and found out they have a pipe wrench and we can borrow it for a week, and David, who has a Berkeley Library card, is going to pick it up.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Freedom of Love

(Translated from the French by Edouard Rodti)

My wife with the hair of a wood fire
With heat lightning thoughts
And an hourglass waist
My wife with a waist of an otter in the teeth of a tiger
With a tongue of rubbed amber and glass
With a tongue of a doll that opens and closes its eyes
My wife with eyelashes that are strokes of a child's writing
My wife with champagne shoulders
My wife with wrists of matches
My wife with fingers of luck and ace of hearts
With fingers of mown hay
With arms of seafoam
My wife with legs of flares
With the movements of clockwork and despair
My wife with feet of initials
With feet of rings of keys and sparrows drinking
My wife with a neck of barley
My wife with a throat of the valley of gold
With breasts of night
My wife with the back of a bird fleeing straight up
With a back of quicksilver
With a back of light
My wife with hips of a chandelier
My wife with eyes full of tears
My wife with savanna eyes
My wife with eyes of water to be drunk in prison
My wife with eyes of wood always under the axe
My wife with eyes of water--of air, earth, and fire

--Andre Breton

Friday, March 16, 2007

"What is sex?" Mr. Piacintini asked our ninth grade class. It was a rhetorical question, but no one dared answer. Instead we rolled our eyes at each other.

"I have sex!" he declared proudly. He was built like a fireplug, and was ancient--at least forty. We snickered. He meant that he had gender, he had sexuality, and was trying to introduce some concept to us that sex is innate in each person, that it's not just an act performed between people, but something that belonged independently to each being.

After thirty-five years I swear that's the only thing I remember from ninth gr4ade biology.

What is sex? The more I live the less I know.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

I never get the bed completely cleared off.

It's a big California King size bed. I sleep on one quarter of it.

Books, magazines, file folders full of lesson plans, diaries, pens, miscellaneous papers, bills, old drafts of poems sleep on the other three quarters.

If anyone wants to point out the metaphorical significance of this, don't worry, I already thought of it.

Yesterday, I taught second graders again. One boy asked me how to spell "whore."

"What?" I asked.

"You know, like the whore runs in the forest."

"What?" I repeated.

"You know, like a wild pig."

"Um, I think you mean boar. B-O-A-R."

The student teacher, who overheard all this, cracked up.

At night I taught poetry class through The Writing Salon. Talked about surrealism and did Andre Breton's famous poem about his wife. Even if you are not a surrealist, getting a little hit of it improves regular writing--refreshes the language, cleanses and enlarges the windows of perception.

I have one student who is 83 years old. She reminds me a bit of my mother and grandmother (I guess this is one of the occupational hazards of getting older--you start reminding everyone of maternal influences. Not always a good thing.) Anyway, she's Jewish, from New York, feisty, intellectual, opinionated, with a mordant sense of humor.

As we were leaving, I said, "Joan, do you want me to walk you down the stairs?"

"Oh no, I'm fine. This--" she gestured to her cane, "--is just to keep the men away."

The other women in the class are in their early thirties, very beautiful in the way that you don't know you are until later. I enjoy their company tremendously but don't envy them. Nobody tells you how much fun it is to grow older.

I realized from my dream yesterday how much a part of me longs to let myself go. I love swimming and dancing, so it won't happen, but the idea of just not putting myself through the wringer to try and attain some impossible ideal of physical perfection is enormously appealing. The idea of just letting myself BE.

My mother, the last night of her life, was pleased when I said how thin she'd gotten. She was dying, and she was glad to be thin.

It's been an intense, productive time--a couple of new essays and some new poems all in the last two weeks. There's more in the pipeline, or rather, scribbled longhand in various journals and books--the beginnings of at least two more new essays, and lines that may coalesce into another new poem or two. Plus the second play needs to be revised--and what's really interested is that I've drawn someone into my life who is very much like the main character. Talk about life imitating art!

I'm excited about getting to all this, so what do I do? Fritter away the morning on Sudoku and stupid internet stuff instead of working. Now I'm confronting a stack of student work a foot high that has to be dealt with before I can in good conscience attend to my own writing.

Why do I waste time like this especially when things are going well? Maybe it's an unconscious way to slow down the flow of good stuff because it's a lot for my psyche to process this much richness. Maybe I'm afraid of piling on too much good too fast because overstimulation could tip me into a depression (it's been known to happen.) I have to respect my body's unconscious attempts to regulate the flood of creative energy even if I'm frustrated by my time-wasting habits and compulsions. Here it is 3:00 and I've just now filed and picked up and cleared off enough to go down to the pool, back to the womb, back to the center of myself.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Yesterday, in the pool, there was a slender young African American teenage boy, about 16, very handsome with fine, chiselled features, and his much heavier girlfriend, also about fifteen or sixteen. They were nuzzling so much in the Jacuzzi that I had to get out, but then they continued, from Jacuzzi to sauna to steam room, with an occasional laugh and splash in the pool.

She wore a tiny bikini and her flesh was literally spilling out of it--not just baby fat, puppy fat, but rich, buttery woman-fat, boobs and hips and tummy and thighs, and he was getting lost in all of it, his small face and slender dark hands wrapped around her big caramel back.

Last night (this morning) I dreamed I was lounging naked in the arms of a naked fat woman, voluptuous, soft, fleshy. A bunch of us were disporting ourselves like sea lions like this, naked, soft, feminine, and Beth was there, and she opened a curtain which I wanted kept closed (a common theme for me when I'm having sex in my dreams--someone always comes along and opens a curtain which bothers me, but not enough to stop what I'm doing.)

I woke late--having overslept the alarm--(damn this daylight savings time or non daylight savings time or whatever it is that's making me drive to school with the sun in my eyes!)-- still feeling the delicious pillowy softness of being held by all that flesh, and stumbled reluctantly downstairs where I packed a couple of cheese sticks and some carrots and a container of mixed nuts and some water for my forty minute drive to school.

I'm supposed to be on a diet.

I should lose the ten pounds that crept back up and fastened themselves to my butt and belly after I relaxed my no-sugar rule and cut back my swimming.

I should get all hard-bodied and buff and lean again, the way I was in Fall of '05, when you could bounce quarters off of my toned biceps and buns of steel.

My size 10 pants still fit but they are tight and my tummy bulges like a muffin over the top. Some of the cute short tight skirts I bought back in that season feel too young, too tight. I gave one to my stepsister who is in her twenties. Some of my bras are tight.

I should lose this extra padding so I will look sleek and lean and light and tight again.

Who knew that my psyche found it so sensual and good? Who knew my soul wants to lounge like an odalisque and eat chocolate and cheese--full fat Brie--and potatoes, potatoes, and cream--and rich butter cookies, and all good things, and not exercise and be fleshly and full like women approaching fifty in the olden days were, and be loved anyway?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Opening myself up to life, which is warm, which is scary, which is full, and moist, and smells good. Opening myself up slowly because it's been a long time. Going to hear music, letting the music in, feeling it inside my own body. Holding hands in the dark. Opening my body up to food, opening up to more and more light, trying not to hide, hiding anyway, trying not to procrastinate or distract, procrastinating and distracting anyway, creating among the hiding and procrastinating, showing and hiding, working, writing, teaching, walking, dancing dreaming, meandering.

Remembering to swim, remembering to lead my life, paying a few bills, feeding Julie's cat, washing the dishes and worrying about the slow drains in the sink, eating sugar again, falling off the wagon and resolving to get back on.

Playing phone tag with friends, drinking coffee strong enough to stand a fork up in, eating bread and cheese on a bench by the lake, people-watching. Noticing the six foot three transsexual with what look like real breasts under his thin white undershirt, walking proudly, everyone out in force on this most beautiful spring day, first day that the light stays late, old couples holding hands and leaning on each other, two gay men also holding hands, skate-boarders, bike riders, a crazy man trying to fondle women, baby strollers, dogs on leashes, 10,000,000 geese, coots, cormorants, pelicans, sparrows, seagulls. Joggers and ipod listeners.

I haven't seen the woman with the pink hula hoop for years now. Where did she go? Did she move away, does she still walk, with or without her hoop?

Talking and dreaming, talking with my classes about dreams and writing them down, how people are afraid to write down even simple desires like "I'd like to have something published." Encouraging them to do it. Knowing what a difference it has made in my life to list the desires, persistently, for years and years now. Witnessing.

I went and heard my friends Carla Zilbersmith and Mike Zilber and Allen Taylor play and sing jazz Friday night at Anna's Jazz Island. The music so tight and real and raw it was a revelation that opened my mind and flooded me with a weird kind of peace. I wish I could remember the names of the bass player and the drummer. They played "balls out," as my friend Michael would say, risking everything, like letting go in meditation, like flying. I could hear notes bend and twist and rasp and wail. And no neat resolutions. Beware anyone who tries to tie things up neatly with a bow.

Then, Saturday night Ntozake Shange and Jimmy Santiago Baca's joint new theatre project called A Place to Stand, at Intersection for the Arts in the Mission. I remember what a revelation Shange's "for colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow is enuf" was for me when I was still a girl myself. Seeing that production thrity years ago planted a seed in me which is bearing a great fruit now, the production of See How We Almost Fly, which will go up in early May.

This show A Place to Stand was powerful, if uneven. The actors were great, especially the wman who played the mother of the prisoner, a radiantly beautiful older woman whose love and strength and pain and thwarted desire were in every gesture. She brought me to tears.

The script revisited familiar themes. After thirty years Shange seems to be still working the same themes of domestic abuse, black women driven to madness by intolerable cruelty on the part of their men; healing and survival through dance and music and other women. Is this because she is still faithfully recording the reality of black women as she sees it/experiences it, or because she is just stuck in a groove with her own story?

Baca's work was strong too; a prison saga, the story of men labelled and stamped and slotted for prison from the time they are boys, the stories of the corners with no escape routes they are painted into. I wonder if Shange and Baca combined efforts to write the story of the mother, the most powerful aspect of the play for me, a woman trapped and liberated by her own infinite capacity to love? She carried the story for me.

I loved being in the Mission, filthy and alive, and the air surprisingly balmy for a San Francisco night. Spring flowers are out in abundance--you can smell them even in the Mission (along with all the other things you smell in the Mission.)

I taught a good class tonight, making up, in my own mind at last, for a somewhat bumpy one last week. Personal essay, personal memoir. My students write about dancing, and dead fathers, sex, and survival and ritual, about the countries they come from and what they left behind there, about food and family and war. To say I am "critiquing" these stories is wrong, I don't want to critique anything, I want to help each story, like a tributary, find its truest course to the sea. I am trying to remove dead leaves and mud and debris and clutter and whatever impedes each story, even if that is the ego of the writer. Is that so hard? All it takes is 10,000 revisions.

Friday, March 09, 2007

My sister called me from the carwash yesterday to report that her daughter Lucy, age 3, is making friends with her cousin Anna, also age 3. The two girls were sitting together eating pizza when Emily came in.

"Anna is the King," Lucy announced. "And I am the Princess."

And the first stirrings of theatre begin.

Last night I went with a friend to hear Kitka perform for the opening of the Jewish Music Festival in Berkeley. Fantastic Jewish and Romany music (and some contemporary thrown in.) Rich, minor key subtle harmonies, lament and poetry. A beautiful blending of ancient and new. My friend Catherine Rose Crowther performed with Kitka. She grows more beautiful every year.

It was hard to keep sitting when the fiddle started. That music calls out to be danced to. There were two belly-dancers, supple as eels, and finally, at the end, everyone got up and danced in the aisles. It made me think of this book Cynthia Winton-Henry has been touting, called dancing in the Streets by Barbara Ehrenreich. It's about communal ecstacy and how that used to be built into our community experience. Now we have a spectator culture where we sit and watch and listen while experts perform.

A friend gave me a FUCK BUSH T-shirt--charcoal on black, very tasteful, and I wore it to the video store when I returned my 6-day's late video ("Sherrybaby"--excellent!)

"I'll knock three days off the late fees," said the clerk. "I like your shirt."

G and I played tennis and I thought of an essay idea--I could wear the shirt to various communities, go into shops, cafes, etc. and write about the reactions I get.

"Okay, but just to be clear, if they start throwing rocks and coming after you, we are not together," G said.

"Thanks for your loyalty. It's touching."

Yesterday I managed to book my tickets to go to Detroit for the workshop production of Saying Kaddish. I got confused at first and booked a flight for Chicago on the East Coast theory of the midwest as one big flyover blur--inexcuseable, I know. Geography is not my strong suit. Then spent hours, literally, playing Sudoku on-line. I've been hooked on Sudoku more than usual lately. Beth says it's how I manage my anxiety. Maybe so. I am anxious, I admit it. What do I have to be anxious about? Things are going so well. I'm receiving so much abundance right now. And I'm grateful and happy. Happy to have a full plate of good work and love and family and friends and art in my life, and anxious about being worthy of it, showing up for it with enough to offer, being on time for it, taking care of it.

I am always noticing how people around me take better care of stuff than I do and it's humbling. Sumati bought my old rattler car and she's cleaned it till it's immaculate and is loving it up. Julie transformed my home with elbow grease and vision. Masankho takes time out of his crazy schedule to make reservations to fly to Detroit to see my play workshop--without me even asking! He just made a committment to support me and this play and he's doing it. A new friend gave me whimsical black and white Zebra socks; Erika gave me the FUCK BUSH T-shirt. Emily took time out of her hectic life to call me. All my siblings encourage me to stay connected with my nieces and nephews.

It's beautiful suppor--thoughtfulness to an extreme degree, and I remember times in my life when I wanted to die, when the words "I want to die," would surface spontaneously into my mind--because I couldn't feel my essential connection to others. I'm grateful and awed by how much that has shifted. It can't all be the Prozac, or the exercise--Prozac and exercise don't make a great community happen. I feel humble, I feel grateful, I feel like I want to do better by the people in my life--I always want to do better. Meanwhile I'm going to get my butt in the pool now and swim if it's the last thing I do. I made a sacred promise to myself that I would keep fitting into my pants and take care of this body that is faithfully carrying me through all these adventures.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Absolutely knackered, (as the English say,) crazy, full, running on overdrive, running on empty, running, dry, thirsty (who has time to drink water?) running on anxiety--did I critique the right essays? Do I have the lesson plans copied? Did I take care of the leak in the basement water pipe? What about the PG& E bill?

It seems dumb. I don't have that many pressing responsibilities. Not compared to a parent. Not compared to a brain surgeon. And I love, love, love the work I'm doing. I love my students, bright, intense, eager, opinionated, unique. What I don't love, what trips me up, are the logistics. Getting from here to there with the right stuff photo-copied and commented on and in my arms at the right time. Remembering the keys, the snacks, the clean-up, the phone numbers, the directions, the combinations. Coordinating dates, times, locations, pick-ups, drop-offs. Dealing with traffic, accidents, lost papers, leaky water bottles, miscommunications.

I love my life, I love that I get to write and publish and teach and have friends too. I love it that some men even like me and are not terrified out of their wits by a smart overly outspoken tall woman with unruly hair who bites her nails. I love it that I have a community of people to play with and lean on and climb on and sing with and dance with and do ritual.

I loved Purim on Saturday night at my synagogue when my rabbi was dressed up in a Superman costume and people were doing tequilaq shooters and dancing to an excellent klezmer band; I loved walking fast around the lake the next morning with a new friend, and I even loved teaching for hours later that day, three hours at New College and then two and a half at Writing Salon.

But when I got home that night I was TRASHED, crawl-in-the-bed-with-all-my-clothes- on trashed, no energy to make dinner trashed, just good-for nothing exhausted. And the pace continues. I need to write the article about Tim and get it out, I have a kajillion student essays and memoirs and things to comment on, and somewhere in all of this I've got to do laundry, because today I just ran out of socks.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Hey, I just found out I'm going to make actual money for something I wrote. Go to Malawi kind of money! I submitted an essay to More Magazine, a fairly slick mag for women over 40, and they are taking it. And paying 3.8 TIMES more than the New York Times!! Not that I'm calculating or anything. I guess all those fashion ads and cosmetics ads they run translate into something called real revenue.

So thank you again, Robbie, for this wonderful computer, on which I can do my work. I sent the essay (about swimming) to More after The Chronicle tentatively accepted it and then reneged. I sent the gay marriage piece to The Times after the Chron reneged on that one. The Chron reneging on me seems to be good for my career.

Last night I went to see Hector Aristizabal perform his piece Nightwind at Interplayce. Nightwind tells the story of his arrest and torture as a young man in Medellin Colombia. After that horrible experience, he came to the US and became a psychologist and an actor. Now he uses Theater of the Oppressed to help trauma victims and travels all over the world as an activist against torture. His web site is

We went out for coffee this morning and I helped him edit a monologue he's going to perform next week about an interrogator. The work for this project is sifting through pages of somewhat dry technical and eerily calm discourse about interrogation methods and trying to find the skin of the person on the other side of the mask so as to be able to burrow inside it. Hector's a sweet, intense man with very curly hair and kind eyes. He calls me "darling." (I have a feeling he calls a lot of people that.) He handed me ten pages of transcripts he had on this guy--a real person-- and I circled and numbered paragraphs and slashed and moved things around while he read my poems and chuckled. I think we're going to be friends.

Also: Tattoo Highway, an on-line journal is publishing "In the Teacher's Room," a poem I wrote in 2001. The Sun is probably going to take Insufficiently Caffeinated Poetry Teacher vs. The Big Questions, or some variation on that title, the essay that started as a rant in this blog, and is going to publish "Michael," the poem I wrote for my friend who died in January.

Last night I had a passionate dream about publishing a book that consisted of my two teaching poetry in the classroom essays plus a lot of poetry lesson plans that work for elementary school children. It would be boring methodical detail work getting the permissions to use the poems. But the dream seemed to be saying this is what my heart desires.

Meanwhile, I am going to copy Audre Lorde's "Uses of the Erotic" to bring into the Memoir class, as well as a chapter from Susan Parker's memoir, Tumbling After. The uses of my erotic energy seem to be directed towards work/creation--I'm aware of stirrings in that arena, yearnings toward actual people, followed by confusion: is this what I want? What would the implications be? Could I handle it?