Thursday, November 29, 2007

The last few days I have been wondering and wrestling with my ambitions. The Sun agreed to publish a "new" essay--something I'd sent them months ago, which they rejected, which I revised, which they rejected again, which I revised further, and so on, until they finally accepted it. Now I'm ambivalent about having it appear under my name.

I like the essay--it's about non-violence, and teaching, and kids, and the way they sometimes want to write about bombs and guns, and my inadequate responses to that. It's also, in a general way, about the politics of teaching poetry.

The essay also contains a less-than-flattering portrayal of a teacher who has two pictures of George Bush and a framed signed letter thanking her for her campaign contributions hanging on the wall of her classroom. Needless to say I disagree with this teacher's politics, and we even clashed openly three years ago, the day after the '04 election debacle. But over the years as I've kept visiting her classroom, she's been more and more friendly and supportive of my work and now keeps making noises about raising more money so that I can visit the classes more often. In other words, she's become an unexpected ally.

I don't know how to embrace this contradiction. I don't want anything to appear in print that would hurt her feelings, or damage our relationship, or my relationship with this school which is wonderfully diverse--students from all over the world, speaking two dozen different languages. I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me, and I don't just mean economically. Yes, teaching at this school makes up about a quarter of my yearly income, but beyond that, the regular contact with these kids and teachers feeds my soul. In their nice, well-run classrooms I can actually teach--engage the children in discussions of complex thought, explore beyond the surface with them. Today i even got to translate for a new kid, eight days in this country, of Afghani ancestry, who only speaks French. That was a wonderful feeling.

At the same time: two pictures of George Bush and a framed, signed letter thanking her and her husband for their campaign contributions hang on her wall.

I know that I can focus on differences (political affiliations) and ignore similarities (the fact that we care about kids.) How do I write about both?

I don't want what I write to create conflict and pain, but I don't want to pull back from the truth either. George Bush's policies are responsible for the deaths of thousands of Iraqi children, as well as the blighting of thousands of poor children's lives here in the States. One of my (self-appointed) jobs is to write about the messes of human interaction and this is a mess, a raw juicy one. School is a mess because it's the crucible where the values of the culture are passed along to the next generation, and who gets to decide what those values will be?

In this uncertain world, is it better to teach children to trust or not to trust? I would vote for teaching them to think critically, not to unquestioningly follow the leader. We're in the mess we';re in because of people blindly getting in line behind a pro-war stance and not treating the bullshit flowing out of Washington with appropriate skepticism despite plenty of evidence.

But kids tend to absorb messages in blanket ways, they think in black and white terms. They don't learn to distinguish shades of gray until much later, and even as adults we are constantly refining our abilities to discern. How do you teach kids to pick and choose who to trust and who not to trust? You want them to feel some sense of safety and security in the world, even if that sense is based on illusion--don't you?

(I personally didn't feel that safe or secure as a young Jewish child, even though my circumstances were pretty stable. As a child I learned about the Holocaust, and my parents were open about their agnosticism, or in my father's case, atheism. There were no spiritual guarantees given to me, no sense that I'd go to Heaven when I died, or that God would come in with the cavalry and rescue the good guys. This may have shaped me into the thoughtful person I am today, but I remember it caused me a lot of anxiety as a kid.)

If you give children a general idea that elected officials know what they're doing, God's in his heaven and all's right with the world, you produce one kind of citizen. If you teach them to doubt and question authority at every turn, you produce quite another. Perhaps you get artists who need anti-depressants to make it through middle age. Or, one could argue, you produce people with the necessary angst to search for a better way.

People who don't question authority at every turn are often easier to get along with, play well with othersw, and (perhaps?) have smoother, less painful lives. (I wouldn't know--I'm not one of them.) I do know that I love going to this nice suburban school where everyone is nice to me, and asks me how my holiday was, and where I got that lovely blouse I'm wearing. My job is delightful.

But are we just part of the problem, being nice to each other in the California sunshine while miles away wars are raging, wars which have everything to do with the blouse I'm wearing and the SUV the soccer moms are driving? What about what we teach the kids? That they are rightful heirs to this system, which was set up to serve affluent communities like theirs, or that, to the extent that it is an unfair and cruel and unsustainable system, it is their job to (non-violently) oppose it? Those two different stances lead to altogether different ways of framing even simple lessons about metaphor...

Today in class, one of the fifth graders told me, "I'm really more of a philosopher than anything." It cracked me up and reminded me of when my preternaturally brilliant nephew started a sentence with "Hypothetically," and the news travelled from excited proud family member to family member up and down the East Coast. "Theo started a sentence with "hypothetically!" Which reminded me in turn of when my youngest brother Jim, Theo's dad, at about the same age, started a sentence with "ironically." "You know, Alison, ironically..."

C, working at Juvenile Hall, teaches the children of the disenfranchized. They do not start sentences with "hypothetically," at the age of ten, and their linguistic and intellectual accomplishments are not celebrated with fanfare, but they are no less philosophers. One kid he knows is fifteen years old and facing a fifty year sentence. I don't even know how to wrap my mind around that one. Most fifteen year olds can't even imagine being in their twenties, and he won't be getting out of prison until he is an old man. He wants to write a book. This is what it means to be human. When there is no way out, the act of creation is the only way to endure.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

He makes ladders: long, skinny ladders, shorter squatter ones, ladders out of dark wood (teak?) ladders out of blond wood. They lean up against surfaces, on top of bookshelves, in corners. When he first told me about them, I imagined them suspended in air. Immediately I thought of one of my favorite Georgia O'Keefe paintings, "Jacob's Ladder," a ladder suspended in the starry night sky, halfway between earth and heaven, rooted in air.

Soon after we started dating, he gave me one he'd made for me, a long delicate thing, reaching, reaching. It was an expression of faith, a ladder; we will find something to lean it against. One of us will hold it while the other climbs. Or we will take turns holding and climbing. Isn't there an image from the Bible about angels swarming up and down a heavenly ladder?

He doesn't know what the ladders mean, and neither do I. Maybe the climb itself, the journey toward a higher destination, the helix of DNA, a spiral staircase. When I was little, I "saw" a vision of life as a spiral, ever widening out. It was my first--and one of my only spiritual visions. I know these ladders are spiritual, but they are also practical, like him. Made of wood, finely crafted, simple but elegant. Not calling attention to themselves. Utilitarian, except that they are too small for humans to actually climb, so are they ladders for spirits and angels? Cats? All of these things and none of them.

What does music mean? Or a poem? The cat sleeps with us every night now, purring like a motorboat, like a NASCAR driver idling, like a sea whale snoring and sighing. He is compelled, for some reason, to make ladders. For now, they lean up against available surfaces and corners of our house. Someday later, perhaps they will float suspended above our heads, or visit an exhibition hall, where they will be an installation people may walk among and wonder. Someday the meaning of what we've built here may be revealed to us in a dream. It's not important that we understand everything as we go about our daily business. It's important that we build and follow.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saturday the vet came, a lovely older man with his own mobile unit. Dede had spent the night with us, nestled cozily between our two warm bodies. She had been brushed and fed slivers of turkey and dishes of ice cream, and cuddled, and in general treated like a queen.

When the vet examined her, he said flatly, "She's not ready to go."

Not ready...?

"She has too much life in her. She's movng like a sixteen year old cat, but she's got the spirit of a ten year old. Her coat is glossy. Her lungs and her heart are fine."

"But she hasn't really been eating," C said.

"There's still a nice pad of musculature on her spine. Her bones are not showing through. No, she's not ready. And more to the point, neither are you."

"That's for sure," I said.

"It's probably adjustment issues. When did you say you moved in here?"

"And she hasn't been getting as much exercise..."

"We're thinking of getting a baby gate so she can go up and down the stairs."

"Cats are sensitive to changes in their environment. Give her a little time to get used to things. She'll perk up. There's life in the old girl yet."

We thanked him profusely, a very relieved and in shock C happily wrote out a check, and since then we've been having threesomes at night. Dede gets free reign of the upstairs, and she wanders at will between our bedroom and C's study/music studio. She's getting even more spoiled, if that were humanly possible, and her appetite has picked up.

Saturday night we went to a joint concert: Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir, and Keith Terry's Crosspulse. Amazing. Such fullness, excellence, passion, technique, cross-cultural fertilization, respect and love among the musicians and dancers. Such a packed, innovative show, with polyrhythm, roots music, body percussion, bluegrass, and exuberant joy. It's one of the best concerts I've seen in a long time--made me grateful to live here among such cultural richness.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wonderful Thanksgiving with a dozen or so good friends, tons of food, two dogs, and lots of music. C and I used the holiday as an excuse to clear away the last of the boxes, and very nearly got them all (there's always more.) Worked all morning, cooking two brined turkeys, one stuffed with lemons and onions, the other with garlic, and making string beans with garlic, pignola nuts, and soy sauce, and salad, and stuffing with fennel more pine nuts, and and and...

Guests started arriving around 3:00--G came first with his new lady-friend, and a lemon cake, ice cream, wine, champagne, and Amaretto. His new woman is lovely, a nurse, very kind and sensitive and straightforward. I liked her immediately. Then more and more guests, each bearing food, until the kitchen and then the dining room table were overflowing. C had imposed some order on a process that in earlier years has been described as "delightfully chaotic"--that is, he made sure things were vacuumed and cleaned, laid out plates and silver beforehand, and in general, made everything proceed more smoothly.

All the while he was doing this he was torn up about his cat Dede. Dede is sixteen--she's been with him since she was a baby, through divorce, remarriage, redivorce, cross-country moves, job changes, school, and his motorcycle accident. She's seen him through more ups and downs than any one person in his life and has always been her sweet faithful black-catted, green-eyed self.

But the last week or so her green eyes have been getting dimmer. She has been refusing food and not drinking enough water. He took her to the vet a couple of days ago, and the tests were inconclusive--she was very dehydrated; they tried to re-hydrate her with a needle, it didn't work. Her kidney functions were okay, but her liver was off. More tests would have to be done to figure it out--ultrasounds and so on. And Dede hates going to the vet, like any good cat would, she moans and cries when she's put into the carrier, and she resisted the big 12-guage needle they tried to push into her to get more hydration going.

She's sixteen years old, and getting feeble. She doesn't spring from the chair under the windowsill; she's less and less interested in food, although we've been able to tempt her a little with saucers of half'n'half, and bits of ice cream, and tiny plates full of turkey slivers.

So all through Thanksgiving, while we served and poured and greeted dear friends, it was heavy on his mind; when would he have to make the call? That kind of responsibility is agonizing. I wished she could just die easily and peacefully of natural causes, but that couldn't be guaranteed. She might have some kind of obstruction, she might suffer, she might be alone when it happened.

Our dining room now has C's grand, and his upright piano in it. The guests included several members of WingIt! who are all musical. Amar got on one piano, and his son, a musician, got on the other and they began improvising a furious duet. It was wonderful to see them, two bodies but one musical soul, speaking back and forth to each other via the pianos. But C had stolen away upstairs. I followed him and found him in tears in Dede's room. We held each other while he sobbed and the party went on without us downstairs.

Fortunately, it had already gelled--you can feel the moments when the party starts to have a life of its own, guests take an interest in each other, new friendships are formed, and the host is no longer needed. I could hear laughter and music from downstairs, shouts of laughter as Vinnie the dog, who was having a field day getting fed illegal treats by everyone, climbed up on a guest's lap, although at 50 pounds he is not anyone's idea of a lap dog. I could hear Amar and his son continue their musical conversation, one that defied any generation gap and went right to the soul. I could smell the delicious smells of turkey, melted butter, and hot coffee. And I held C's warm heaving body in my arms, felt his tears wet my neck.

Later, when he was able, C came downstairs and rejoined the party, just as Jonathan was leading us all in song. We sang Dona Nobis Pacem, and some more rounds, and some carols, and other songs, and then someone asked C to play and he sat down at the piano and bent over it, his long sensitive fingers barely touching the keys. Then he was playing, pouring heart and soul into the music.

I looked around the room. Faces were rapt. Amar was nodding and grinning; his wife was beaming. G's new girlfriend had her eyes closed and her head thrown back, deeply absorbed into the music. I could see the light turn on in people's eyes, the light that said, "This is pretty good--no, this is more than good, this is coming from a deeper, richer place. Pay attention."

C was playing for a room full of music lovers and artists, and the deep listening grew around him as he played on, one piece, then another. When he was done there was wild applause. He slid shyly off the piano bench, his face red, and disappeared into the kitchen to collect himself. There was more music and talk and singing and playing, and the party mgradually broke up around 8:00. Theron stayed behind to ask C some questions about music, and I could hear the two of them lstening to a tape and then figuring out the chords on the piano while I quietly cleared and washed dishes and put things away. I was glad to do it. I knew music was the most healing thing C could focus on in that moment, and that Theron, with his friendly, contemplative monk's soul, was the perfect person.

Then I heard Theron singing a ballad for C., something about the wounds and betrayals of war and I came out to listen and clap along.

We were left with two refrigerators full of leftovers, and the enduring sweetness and grief of the night. Dede has been sleeping on our bed, and sometimes in our bed, with us, when she deigns to. I find myself trying to memorize her elegant little black profile, her snub nose and Egyptian bearing. She's still purring like a motorboat, and lapping weakly at the dishes of ice cream we offer her, but she's moving as little as possible--I had to hold the dish in front of her nose for her to get to it.

Today, the day after Thanksgiving, C made the fateful call to the vet who promised to come by tomorrow morning. Then he cried again, and I held him. This thing is so hard. Not only to say good-by to Dede, his faithful companion of decades, but to be the one who decides the moment when her life should end. He has gone back and forth and agonized about the decision for the last week. There's little I can say that's helpful; just be there to hold him and witness this deep tender wordless love between man and cat that I've been privileged to be a part of.

After he called the vet, we went for a hike--it was another perfect day, cloudless, clear blue sky, warm and fragrant. When we got home we went out back and picked the spot for the grave and C started shovelling. Sometimes his tears were falling, and other times we were joking and laughing, grief and fullness and ordinary life all mixed in together. He dug a good deep hole, and we talked about what to bury with her--some toys, some food. I promised I would say Kaddish over the grave.

It has been a sweet poignant time between us, not without its own challenges. It was hard to pull off a joyous celebration while at the same time preparing for a death, but I think, by the grace of God, we managed it. Neither thing was compromised--the house was full of good food, and laughter and song, and there was room also for tears and the acknowledgement of this eleven pound bundle of fur and curiosity and mischief and love. The acknowledgement of how huge she's been in C's life, a friend, a playmate, a witness, an anchor. We'll let her sleep in our bed again tonight, if she wants to. And we'll go through whatever tomorrow brings together.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Healing waters, a good bed, organic tomatoes, polenta, rainbow trout, cheeses, papaya, persimmons, home-grown greens, long luxurious hikes, and time to make love and rediscover why we moved in was just what we both needed after the last hectic month. My beliefs in God change as I evolve but I am firmly convinced of the power of a hot tub to make life better.

While we were lounging naked in the pools, along with other aging hippies, butts, bellies, private parts, we saw a gaggle of slender girls from Hong Kong, about eighteen years old, wearing bikinis. Lovely as flowers, all of them, nothing sagging or wrinkling, just smooth, firm youth. They giggled together in Mandarin while we languidly soaked, each group covertly watching and not watching the other.

I remember being their age. I was horrified at the idea of my flesh aging, corrupting. I had a nice figure and I didn't want anything to happen to it. If I had been catapulted then into the body I have now, twenty pounds heavier and thirty years older, I would have been horrified.

And now it's now, and I am not horrified, not even self-conscious. I don't care if other people see that I'm not perfect. I'm not perfect. I would not trade places with any of those adorable teenagers we saw. I enjoyed watching them, but I didn't want to be them. I didn't want to have to guard something that couldn't be guarded, and God help me I don't ever again want to have to go through what I've gone through to get here. I am much more comfortable in these folds and layers of imperfect, experienced flesh than I was in my young, taut, gorgeous body--comfortable in a different way.

And I noticed something else: perfection all looks the same. The girls were uniformly lean and graceful--they could have worn each others' bikinis (except for one who was a little bit chubbier and wore a bathing suit with a little skirt on the bottom.) All the older people on the other hand were falling apart each in our own unique, idiosyncratic way; extra padding on belly or hips, legs still holding up but breasts heading south, (or small proud breasts still high, while the bottom spread,) waistlines thickening, but elegant clavicles.

C and I took a long glorious hike: bright blue sky, warm sun, trees turning yellow and orange (though not as spectacularly as in New England.) Horse-tail clouds. Abandoned farm equipment. Then we saw what we thought were chestnuts, tons of them, so perfectly ripe we had caught them literally in the act of falling from the trees.

"Look, honey! These are like $4.99 in the store! At least! We can roast them and serve them for Thanksgiving."

"I wonder why people just let them lie on the ground to rot," C mused.

We enthusiastically gathered pounds and pounds of them, tying the sleeves of C's plaid shirt together to improvise a bag that would carry them back. Described them to the cook, who had spent ten years in France, apprenticing, and he said, "Those are buckeyes--they're inedible. There are hardly any chestnuts left in this country, they mostly import them from Europe. That's why they're so expensive." We had a good laugh at our own expense. There are still 10 pounds of buckeyes in the back of C's car, waiting for a discreet place where he can dispose of them.

I am reading The Pacific, short stories by Mark Helprin. He has lovely long poetic sentences, full of rhythm and beauty. I feel safe in his storyteller's hands, because his vision of human nature, while not naive, is not cynical. He gives his characters frailty and nobility, and he even gives them miracles and second chances. His work is holy writ, especially the short story "Perfection."

I was going to work on the plays--I had my usual grand, overweeningly ambitious plans for the weekend-- but accidentally left my laptop behind, which was probably just as well. Instead I finished illustrating my Chanukah gift to my nieces, The Princess with Too Many Clothes, and napped and chatted and ate a lot.

Before we left on Friday, I changed the name of my poetry ms. from See How We Almost Fly to Sustain, and sent out three copies to different contests. I hope it's not just pissing into the wind. Two more copies to send out before the end of November. The book is the richest and strongest it's ever been--I've put everything I could into it--and I wonder when the hell it will get taken. Like wondering when I would ever meet my partner, when I was ready for so long. Fourteen years between marriages. C is definitely worth the wait, but I'm still not sure why I had to wait so long--that's not a very spiritually mature thing to say. You're supposed to say, "Not in my time, but God's time," or whatever, which, okay, I do believe, but really, God, would it have killed You to have sent me a good faithful partner when I was 35 instead of waiting until I was almost fifty?

The Bay has been covered with black oil from a Valdez-like spill this week, and my friend E has been volunteering to help clean it. She made phone calls to local hotels and got them to donate clean sheets and towels, got a friend of hers to launder them with organic soap to get the chemical detergent out, and has been spending her free time scrambling around on shore, breathing in toxic fumes from the spill, and doing what she can to help rescue birds--most of them will not make it--and restore balance.

When I told her I admired her for doing that, she said, "I had to, otherwise I would just sit home and cry."

I heard someone define spiritual evolution as "joyful involvement with the sorrows of this world." Wish I could remember where the quote came from. Anyway, that is what I thought when I talked to her. Also, finally finished the Tracy kidder book about Paul Farmer, Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is one of the most inspiring, challenging, kick in the ass things I've ever read.

Driving home, C and I talked about other lives we might have liked to have led had we not stumbled into the things we are doing now. I have wanted to be an actor, a medical missionary, an adoptive parent, a painter, a contemplative, a criminal profiler, a child psychologist.

He could have been a fine woodworker, a full-time musician, a writer, a doctor, or many other things.

The real question is, how will we use whatever time we have left?

Friday, November 16, 2007

We had a sweet little gathering here the other night--Angela was in from N. Carolina--so I invited G and Bethie and we had squash soup and veggie burgers, green beans, and dark chocolate and wine, and we actually SANG, and C played the grand piano, and it was lovely.

I got up early with him today and had coffee together, before 7 a.m. This is how we know it's real love. I will not get up before 7 for just anybody. But it is the best time for us to talk--no interruptions, and I am not so exhausted from saying, "I'm looking for a quiet hand," and "Patrick, focus on your own poem," and "Great simile!" that I acually can say things--I remember what I'm thinking. By the end of a teaching day I'm toast and not good for much except staring at the wall and drooling--I've shot my wad.

Tonight we're going to a hot springs for a weekend away--much-needed!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

There's this phenomenon that occurs in my days which I call doubling. It's as if God were underlining something that She wanted me to pay attention to.

For instance, today a woman in Trader Joe's noticed and commented on my ox-blood (sorry, that's the real name of the color) red Dansko shoes, and then when I went to the dentist, the dental hygienist remarked on them also.

I wear those shoes all the time, when I'm not wearing sneakers--they're comfortable and they pass for almost-stylish among Berkeley hippie-types of A Certain Age. Most of the time they pass unremarked, as every woman of A Certain Age in the Bay Area has a similar pair of Danskos in her own closet. So, I have no idea what it means that two people said something about them today--probably nothing--the underlining thing doesn't have to mean anything, it's just a way I keep my eyes open for synchronicity.

More important-seeming was that I had two appointments today which both reminded me of my mortality. One was a trip to the lawyer, to draw up a will. Because he's responsible and thinks ahead, and because he had a bad motorcycle accident last year and because my ex-husband died at age 45, C and I have been dealing with all the legal and financial stuff of partnering. Among other things, we've made each other beneficiaries and given each other power-of-attorney and done all that other morbid stuff that everyone, no matter what age, really should do but that no one wants to think about.

And then, today, the will. I should have had one drawn up a while ago; I own a house, I want to give money to my nieces and nephews, I contribute to non-profits that are important to me. And everyone should do the medical things that state your wishes, and put them in writing, and do it legally so they can't be contested.

What I have said to everyone--friends, family, and I'll say it here on this blog--is PULL THE PLUG!! My worst fear is not death. My worst fear is lingering in some semi-vegetative state for weeks or months, or God forbid, years. When the Terrie Schiavo case surfaced a year or two ago, my family and I all spoke with each other and agreed that if any of us allowed another member to be photographed in a comatose state and then have that photo broadcast on network television, the comatose person would come back after death and haunt everyone else as a poltergeist FOREVER.

I hate that our culture denies death. I believe in reincarnation. Let the dying die, and let everyone move along. Keeping people on ventilators in nursing homes is disgusting. I hope, by the time I die, I'll have given everything away and there won't be anything left to settle. I'd like to die like Gandhi, who left only a loincloth and a begging bowl and a pair of glasses, but I'm not exactly living like Gandhi, so chances are I won't die like him either (although there is always hope for evolution.)

Anyway, it's not every morning that you sit across a desk from a total stranger who starts sentences with phrases like, "Upon your death..."

Then I went to the dentist, and they took X-rays. There's something about seeing your own grinning skull, with its mouthful of slightly crooked teeth, distinctively, inarguably your slightly crooked teeth, that was yet another reminder of mortality. It seems very appropriate that all this happen in the month of November.

It's of a piece with cleaning out the house, which we have been doing--cleaning out, and unloading and getting rid of. Full inventory. Sweeping the slate clean. Getting ready to create something new. But first, to look death in the face...

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Opening boxes and unearthing old documents, C. came across this paragraph he had typed up at least a decade ago about the home he dreamed of living in one day:

"There will be the sounds of people laughing and singing. Music from many distant lands will emanate from the stereo; the unknown will be embraced, and differences will be respected. There might be the sound of babies crying, but they will be comforted, and no one will be aggrieved for their sleep having been disturbed. Flowers will grow in window boxes but yardwork will not be compulsory. 'I love you' will be heard frequently and without irony. Mud will be tracked across the floor and life will go on. People will dance and hug and kiss each other openly, without shame. Things will break, and they will be repaired with good humor, not with furious anger. There will be garlic and incense and other strange sme;lls. Tools will be lost and replaced without comment. Misunderstandings will occur, arguments will ensue, and people will apologize and forgive each other with expressions of tenderness and compassion. Sex will be understood to be a desirable, normal and necessary part of life. People will not be told they are unloved, and acceptance and approval will not be rationed. Images crudely drawn but profoundly beautiful will be tacked up on the walls. The reading and writing of poetry will be commonplace, and the shelves will overflow with books and penciled music manuscripts. Gatherings will be held and adventuresome cuisine will be served. Smiling strangers will bring forth unusual musical instruments and we will all play together, well beyond our bedtimes."

The paragraph reflected the vision he had about the kind of life he wanted to co-create with smeone, but at the time he wrote it, he had no idea how to do that. It seemed almost impossible that he would ever be able to find or make that happen. How strange and wonderful to find ourselves, ten years later, living in just the kind of situation he describes, smells of garlic, mud tracked in, foreign foods and music and even David's baby daughter sometimes; I love you's and apologies freely offered and accepted, much laughing and teasing and physical affection, room for creativity, sensuality, mistakes and risks and humanness.

It is a miracle, especially considering that it's a vision that we had to make together out of imagination and tenderness and need and yearning--and that we have and are. A daily miracle.

And, as i tell my students--be careful what you ask for, especially when you write it down. Writing is magic. Words create the energy that beget the reality. There is a place in the dream world where the yearnings of the heart meet the creative function of the soul and they conceive a new life.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The new fridge was delivered today by two very adept Home Depot delivery guys, who delicately sidestepped piano benches (C's), leaning bicycle (housemate David's), and piles of boxes to bring in the new baby. They took doors off hinges quickly and efficiently and hoisted her in, and had the doors back on and were out within twenty minutes. Artistry. And now I have refrigerator envy--of my tenant! She gets that whole clean gleaming thing to herself, while C and I are sharing fridge space with Masankho and David, our salad fixings spilling over into someone else's Korean take-out, into someone else's peanut butter and half'n'half.

The other night I dreamed Hillary Clinton wanted to be my special friend. We were at some kind of function and she insisted on sitting next to me at my table and telling me she liked me. I told her I liked her too, but I didn't know if I could vote for her because she voted for the war. I still prefer Obama. (Also I'm suspicious that the Republicans are setting Hillary up to be the Democratic candidate because they think she's beatable.) It reminds me of the time I dreamed I was making love with Arnold Shwarzenegger--now that was horrifying and titillating--the deadly combination of his inflated pectorals and his odious politics!

I've spent time the last few days reconfiguring my poetry ms. for the bajillionth time and renaming it as well...with all the new poems I've been writing lately, it has taken on a different tone. I read an article Eavan Boland wrote a few years ago in Poets & Writers Magazine, about how first books aren't really first books anymore. With all the pressure that the competitions put on emerging writers, by the time a book finally gets published it is more like a third book. That is definitely true for me. This ms., which is supposed to be for my second book is really more like my fourth or fifth. I've put in and then taken out so many poems that I felt were not strong enough, even some that had been published. (And of course there are the ones Dad likes vs. the ones Ruth likes, and then the ones that never got accepted anywhere but I still just stubbornly like them.)

Boland's point in her essay was that this over-editing ultimately shortchanges readers who want to track a poet's growth and development--everything has become so polished by the time it hits the general airwaves that we miss the precious rough edges and transitions that are a normal part of any artist's development. I think she's right. Looking back over my tattered collection of favorite books of poems by W.C. Williams, Frank O'Hara, Muriel Rukeyser, Galway Kinnell, there are poems that are uneven, poems that might not make it through a rigorous workshop. But it doesn't matter because what I was after when I read poetry back in the day, before I was so thoroughly indoctrinated into the po' biz, was the feeling of a life laid bare on the page--and that was something these writers gave me, even in their most imperfect works.

I've discovered a new poet--finally bought a copy of Unfortunately, it was Paradise, by Mahmoud Darwish. He is the poet laureate of the Palestinians, if a stateless people can have a laureate. His voice is poignant, earthy, authentic. I brought in the following poem to my fourth and fifth graders this week. They were challenged and inspired by it:

The Flute Cried

The flute cried, If only I could go to Damascus as an echo.
Silk weeps on the shores and passes through a sobbing cry.
Landscapes fill with tears. The flute cried and tore the sky into two women.
It divided the road and broke the heart of the sand grouse.
It divided us so we’d fall in love. O flute, we plea for mercy!
We are not as distant as the sunset. Are you crying out so as to cry in vain,
or to crush the mountain as well as Adam and Eve’s apple? O shout of
infinite silence, cry Damascus, my woman, I will love and I will survive.

The flute cried. If only I could go to Damascus as an echo.
I even believe in what I don’t believe. Silky tears burn away our breath.
The flute cried. If only I could cry like the flute, then I would know Damascus.

--Mahmoud Darwish

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The swim helped--almost as soon as I hit the water I got an idea for the scene with Max, wrote it later that day, revised it the next and the next, and then sent it off to the director. I just got a little email back from him indicating it's fine, he likes what I wrote. Phew! Moral of the story: just do it. Don't obsess and don't fret. And aerobic activity makes blood flow to the brain makes more better ideas come.

Saturday I skipped a faculty meeting in order to accompany C on a visit to a group home and speak Spanish to his student's mother. It was a sweet little outing, a needed getaway for both of us from the boxes, boxes, boxes at home (although progress has been made there as well; it's just that, having unpacked a ton of them, there are still a ton left. But we can see the floor now, and even watch videos in the living room again.)

I also got back to the Hot Tub play, after my conversation with Suzanne, and took another pass at it--I think it needs still more work, but it's moving in the right direction. Hope she agrees with me. (Actually, I hope she falls in love with it and feels compelled to help me shift things around in it to get to the climax faster, because she's really good at that.)

In Wing It! we're getting ready for our performances on the theme of "Hot Earth" --I feel a little nervous about it, we're all a bit rusty from not having performed in so long. Yesterday in practice I was dancing with E and caught my toe in the draggy droopy hem of my pants and tripped and fell hard on both knees. After that, surprisingly, I danced better than before. It reminds me of that song by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, "Dancer with Bruised Knees."

I wrote a new poem as well, not as polished and literary as the other stuff that's been coming out lately, but heartfelt and strong in its own way, a throwback to the days when I wrote more overtly political things. I'm wondering whether to redo it as a prose poem, a la Robert Hass in Human Wishes, where he has a lot of long political/personal poems that are like a cross between a poem and essay, or to leave it as is. I love all things Robert Hass--he has a new book out that I'm dying to get. He's fantastic. It's his surprising candor, combined with brilliance--but he never gets so erudite or abstract that I can't follow him. He's like a cross between Tony Hoagland and Mary Oliver. He's himself. I love him!

The other night C and I watched Flight 93, the movie about the doomed flight where the passengers managed to prevent the hijackers from crashing the plane into the White House. The movie affected both of us deeply--it was so non-Hollywood--the flight attendants and the passengers looked like real people, the air traffic controllers had genuine Boston accents (and those cannot be faked,) and there was just a grittiness and a sadness to it that we hadn't seen in any of the other movies that have come out about 9/11.

After the feature itself, we watched a documentary about the families of the passengers and the making of the film, which made us both cry. It felt good to watch it, not as if we were being "entertained," but as if we were able finally to enter a little more deeply into an experience that we had previously shut off from because it was too scary and horrible. Painful, but good.

Meanwhile, I've been teaching my classes, and there's more unpacking of boxes to do, and the refrigerator in the in-law just went bust, and there was a problem with my DMV registration and Chanukah comes early this year, and the time has changed, and the days are short, and money, and shopping, and normal life...blessed, ordinary, normal life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

I need to write a new scene for Kaddish, as I'd promised the director, and now for some reason, I'm scared. Scared I can't do it. Why would I think I can't do it? Go back into a play I stopped revising three years ago and just pick up the thread, just write a new scene to give the father a bigger voice and presence? What could be simpler?

I think I'll go swim.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Teaching at the elementary school, I reached into my handbag to find a lipstick. I was make-up free and wanted to at least make a stab at looking more like a grown-up, despite having rolled out of bed at 7:30 and driven like hell on the freeway, eating an "energy bar" (odious and deceptive term) and cursing all the other drivers, in order to get their on time.

I reached in and felt something smooth and tubular and lipstick-shaped. Pulled it out and it was a little vial containing C's mother's ashes, which I had "packed" when emptying his desk at the old place, but not wanted to throw into a box as I felt it would be disrespectful. So, in honor of Day of the Dead, it was "Bring Your Boyfriend's Deceased Parents To Work Day." (His father was in his own separate vial, also in my capacious handbag, which my friend Ellen refers to as my "goat," because she says it's like I'm still in the shtetl lugging around pounds of potatoes, with a goat under my arm. And because it weighs about that much.)

I taught the "Paint Me" lesson plan, which always gets great poems from the kids. It was fun but exhausting.

Last night I dreamed I was writing a musical about the bathhouse era of gay male culture that was interrupted when the AIDS epidemic began. In my dream, I had naked men running all over the stage, singing, while water showered down from the lights! I am feeling the urge to go back to my plays...had a very inspiring meeting with Suzanne Cohen, whose theatre company Mirror Stage Company in Seattle did a reading of my play Saying Kaddish back in 05. Suzanne is a great script doctor/dramaturg, and we talked about the two latest playscripts I had sent her--not ready for prime time, but not without merit either.

I got some good ideas for revision, and of course I have to write one extra little scene for Kaddish too, before the January production. Mostly, I've been working on poems for a while, steadily, feverishly, poeming away, stockpiling new poems for a third book even though the second book is not yet sold (although I found out today that the first book has sold out its second printing.)

Okay, naptime.