Thursday, May 31, 2007

Baby steps into more committment with C...first plane ride together, back East, in July, for my stepmother's ordination as a Buddhist...whatever-she's-going-to-be (priestess? rabbi?) I reserved the tickets on-line. And the rental car. Observed my heart pounding a little. It's not like I haven't done it a hundred times before. Typed in my credit card to or Orbitz, chosen a flight, booked it, hit Purchase. But this was the first time doing it with someone, with a partner, in...years. A dozen years. Gulp.

From Massachusetts, we'll go to New York, and then I'll join other Interplayers on a plane for Malawi (double gulp!) and C will fly home to California.

Meanwhile, Berda Lee sent me the link for the MP3 file of our interview..which I cannot open. But perhaps someone out there in cyberland can. It is

Work on the musical continues. And another essay, which I submitted to More Magazine in an attempt to earn More Money.

And then, spur of the moment, ten pages of the hot tub play in a mad attempt to beat a June 8 deadline for a plays-in-progress contest.

I sat in Borders today and read Julia Cameron's latest book, Finding Water. It's basically a rehash of The Artist's Way, with the message that it takes persistance to stay the course. I already knew that! The one new factoid I brought away from the book is that it takes an average of seven years to get a musical produced. (Cameron has written several musicals, a movie, a couple of plays, and was once married to Martin Scorcese.)

Seven years! At that rate, C and I will see our as-yet-unnamed musical go up in...2014???

But I know there's truth to what she writes because I started work on Saying Kaddish in Fall 2001 and if Jewish Ensemble Theatre takes it--big if--it will see the light of day in a full production (and I may finally see some money for it) in 2009 or so.

Hence the mad scramble to get the hot tub play out by next week--(Just do it! Don't be too precious about it, don't overthink all the little twists and turns, just spill. Suzan-Lori Parks wrote Topdog/Underdog in three days. And I read somewhere that Tony Kushner wrote Hydrotaphia on an airplane trip (but then, he's Tony Kushner. There's a reason they call those MacArthur things Genius awards.)

It--the hot tub play--is turning out kind of nasty, sexual and angry and even gross--but that could be good. I honestly don't know. I'm writing fast, under pressure, (albeit self-imposed,) so the censorship switch is off. Gnarly stuff about male-female relationships, marriage, betrayal, anger, power, and sex is coming out, and I'm letting it.

Right now, I feel like the six-burner stove that C covets, with all my gas jets blazing, and full, almost-boiling-over pots on each one. Had to take myself for a long hard walk in the woods this evening and breathe--breathe!--and pray.

Dear sweet God, God of the cool evening fog and the twig-strewn woods, and the little orange wildflowers whose names I don't know, and happy dogs, and chewed pinecones, and green piles of horseshit, help me do a good job with all of this. Help me be a better Big Sister. Remind me that the source of my good is not any individual man or woman, but this spirit of life and truth and divine intelligence that is flowing through me and through all living things. Amen.

It's almost scary how well things are going. Did I say baby steps soward committment with C? Actually, it's more ike giant strides. Like my life is changing--has changed--overnight, the way it does, the way it did when Alan and I got together. Only this time around everything else is fuller too, work, friends, the house. This time around I am a grown-up in the world.

(After I get this hot tub play out, I'll turn my attention to writing another essay--this one about improvisation. I'm hoping to get regular work as a personal essayist for these high-paying glossy mags.)

And also incubating ideas for the third book of poems.

One would expect--one would hope--that with the accumulation of a track record, it would get easier to get books published and plays produced. That somewhere, over the rainbow, there's a promised land where one just has to do the writing and the rest of it--audience, production opportunities, and money--follow smoothly.

I'm beginning to suspect there is no over the rainbow, there is just the next project, and then the one after that. The reward for the work is just to keep doing the work. That and love, and serious play and connection with other beings, the freshness of the Redwood trees, and this incredible aliveness I feel as the moon rises and pink lights of the city turn on below the ridge. And that is more than enough.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

On the pretext of helping both G and C with their seasonal allergies, I bought a big jar of "Hood Honey" at the Farmer's Market last Saturday. Honey harvested from urban bees, tough survivor bees who have been cruising the streets on their motorcycles looking for action. It might be working, C had a bit and didn't have any trouble with allergies when we were in Guerneville. Of course I am eating it myself; smeared on bread, dipped into tea.

I didn't note in my blog last night that the only word I definitively picked up from the street fight below my window last night was "nigger," possibly my least favorite word in the English language. Or, that the people shouting this word at each other were African American.

Or, that in the grocery store, sweaty and frizzy and done in after my ball game with G I was approached by a very drunk black man, slurring his words and staring at my bird's nest of hair.

"'Zat natural?" he asked me. "Why don't you put some straightener on that? You got a black daddy? Black mama? You a little bit Black?" He checked out my butt. "You got a little African womanhood going on back there. Most white womens be flat as pancakes. You got a little black booty. Don't you lose that now. You do your lunges, you do your squats. You don't want to lose your booty, cause that's all you got."

"Leave me alone," I said.

"See, that's how black women talk. You got two dollars?"

I told G about it afterwards. He laughed.

Masankho's aunt Emily is visiting the States from Malawi. She will be our host when we go there in August. She runs several children's services, and will help me find placement in an orphanage. When I met her, I said, "My sister's name is Emily."

With quintessential African warmth and hospitality she said, "Then I will be your sister too."

I feel like I live surrounded by Africa, that Africa is part of the air and language and culture here in Oakland. Drumbeats from open windows and car stereos. The flea market at Ashby BART--pure Africa. Yet how strange that C and I drove a few hours out of the Bay Area and hardly saw any black people.

My best friend is a black man who shoots baskets and plays tennis with me, teaches me about jazz, debates politics and popular culture with me and knows my family. We watch movies and eat popcorn and drink wine together. Yet when we walk down the street sometimes he has encounters with other black men where a subtle code is exchanged, a word, a look, occasionally a handshake, that doesn't exactly exclude me, but comes from a place that I don't know.

I measure how it feels different to walk into a restaurant with C, who is white, than it does with G. I have never noticed any racist attitudes on the part of servers or cops or passers by when G and I are out together. The Bay Area is a pretty mellow place and I see tons of interracial couples of every description when I am just walking around here; gay couples, Latino and Asian mixed couples, black and Asian, and every possible combination under the sun.

The difference is that when I am with C. I am not at all on my guard waiting or watching for any possibly racist behavior. That little defensive filter just disappears from my mind when I am out with a white man. We become anonymous, "normal." We blend in. We could be anywhere.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Beautiful Memorial Day weekend--C and I went up to Guerneville, a pretty tourist town about two and a half hours North of the Bay Area. There's a community radio station up there, "low power and high spirits." I swear every man, woman and child in Guerneville has their own hour when they can play music, read stories or do whatever they want. Hooray for community radio!

An elf named Berda Lee has a program called "She Said" featuring women writers, and she invited me to be on it. I read some poems old and new and my essay Purple Nails and we chatted. I think it's all listenable at --it was the May 27 nightcast of She Said--I hope it can be gotten via mp3, but Berda was a little vague on the technical details, so I'm not sure. I hope the techno-savants who read this blog will try it and report back.

Anyway, C and I enjoyed our mini-vacation. Berda has a sweet house full of magical tchotchkes and paintings, goddess flags and crystals. It overlooks the glorious basin of the Russian River. We slept amazingly well on a tiny bed under a hand-sewn quilt. The absence of gunshots, sirens, cars with jacked-up stereos broadcasting street-shaking bass lines and other normal ambient sounds of the Oakland hood was refreshing. (As I type this, there's a big, noisy altercation going on outside my window in the street below; some men and women screaming at each other. I wonder if I should call the cops but I don't hear the sound of anyone getting hit, and then it falls suddenly quiet.)

The car ride back was an opportunity to talk deeply. It's all still so new. Without either of us pushing or pulling, this little canoe of our relationship seems to be moving very fast--gliding--down a swiftly flowing river. It feels good. Thrilling, actually; forward mementum, change, after years of poking around in the shallows.

Twenty-two years ago, on Memorial Day 1985, I called Alan's mother in Berkeley (I was living in Cambridge,)and he was there--I wasn't prepared for that--and she handed him the phone. As soon as I heard his voice, I knew, we both knew. I didn't think I would ever know that again. I feel full and young and hopeful and serious and happy.

Played basketball this afternoon with G and did okay--actually scored some good baskets. We played for an hour or so until he twisted his ankle and we had to stop. Then we watched two episodes of The Sopranos; in one of them a major character got whacked and then dismembered in a bathtub. I'm not sure why I like this show so much--oh yeah, the dialogue. The acting. The dialogue and the acting were great. The bathtub dismemberment scene not so much.

I've just printed out everying my advisee emailed me and it comes to about sixty pages. Oy. I have to read and comment on all this for our meeting tomorrow and prepare and teach a class for Writing Salon tomorrow night. All my brain wants to do is be on vacation and digest the huge new turns my life is taking...but it's probably good to have to focus on work.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Free at last, free at disrespect to the late, great Dr. Martin Luther King, but thank GOD almighty, I'm free at last!!!

Last day at the high school today--filled out my time sheets, dropped off seven classes worth of student poems with comments like "Nice work!" and "Maybe you could find a simile here?" in the appropriate teacher's boxes. A feeling of shame for being so burned out, but then again, it's been a very full year and we're barely five months in.

The air is almost unbearably sweet tonight, the heavy bunches of jasmine hang over my fence and release their perfume. It's cool and fragrant, so lovely it makes me shiver. I carried a mountain of paperwork up to my bed, got a couple of trash bags and began methodically going through it--oh, look, my car registration, oh look, the gas bill, oh look...all the stuff I just couldn't deal with for the past few months. It's not so bad. I need to go through my old lesson plans as well, edit, throw out the old, in with the new, reorganize, reshuffle...hey, doesn't Mercury go retrograde in a few days?

I'm getting a head start on the trend.

the feeling of lightness and freedom is exquisite. I sent SHWAF to one more poetry book contest--that makes six, that makes $150.00 in entry fees for that little exercise alone, enough already, who do I have to fuck to get a second book published, but I've done all I can, now give it a rest, turn my attention to the other five projects bubbling away...

The Sun came with my poem Liar in it, which I wrote three years ago. I am so far away from the feelings in it now, it's strange to see it, like an old photograph of myself in a really bad haircut. Thank God I'm not in that emotional place anymore.

Tuesday I took myself to see a matinee of After the Wedding and cried a river over the father-daughter, husband-wife, old-lovers scenes--they were so raw and well-done. Powerful acting, beautiful, intimate camera angles, slow-cooking family story, suffused with pain and love...

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Yesterday the Internet went out again and I listened as Masankho patiently went through the whole rigamarole with tech support for the umpteenth time without any sign of impatience in his voice or manner towards the employee on the other end of the line. I was impressed. He gives trainings in non-violence--a sexy topic, when you're talking about international relations, Israelis and Palestinians et al.

But someone who can stay non-violent and gentle in bad traffic or when their Internet connection goes out for the sixteenth time in a week has my undying respect.

More and more scenes, songs, scraps of dialogue for the musical keep coming through me, at odd hours; I write them down and email C, Elizabeth, Theron, and my family. Over the weekend, C was asking questions about the ending of the play. I don't know because I haven't written my way there yet. Some balance has to be struck, some bargain made, some cosmic see-saw swung. That's all I know so far.

A few more specific details begin to emerge in the writing: one of the boys' mothers is a nurse and an activist. She also has a prior relationship with the Devil. The other boys' mother is a bit shadowy still. The young men themselves are only sketches as of yet. And the father was in the military himself, only during peacetime, like G...

While I work on these pieces, I try not to think too much about revising the play I wrote last year, or about the personal essays waiting their turn, or the next poetry manuscript to be compiled. Creativity is a fire. I keep shovelling on wood until it's time to stick my head under the shower, wet hair and glue down frizz with gel, throw on a bra and a short-sleeved shirt that will cover my armpits, and show up at school and teach. Only two more days of poetry at the high school! Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah! I can smell freedom. It smells like cinnamon.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Another golden morning. Hot coffee. The kitchen clean. I woke at 5 a.m., listened to birds, fell back to sleep. A long weekend, spent mostly with C, in his loft, a beautiful hike in Tilden, where we saw vultures, and a BART trip to SF to see a play. Deepening intimacy. The old stories of our lives, the gifts we've carried with us all this ime, longing to give them to someone, but transformed. Beginning to transform them. Hoping to.

His senile, demented cat, who yowls at night, whom I am going to make into a pair of fur earmuffs. My roommates, my family, my thousand projects, my messes and failures and triumphs. His dreams deferred and pursued, the boy he was, serious, artistic, sensitive, creative. His thousand projects, his power tools and musical instruments. Our middle-aged bodies, strong and crumbling. Piles of books next to the wide bed. A skylight.

A show at the ODC based on Henry V--an anti-war dance and text show that was moving and clear with minimal props and gorgeous dancers. Good chewy bread and butter, salad, rich Greek yogurt with green apples and salted nuts in it, dark chocolate truffles (alright, one), champagne (one glass), strong coffee, music, music, music.


And that meant I didn't go to synagogue to see Vicki and Jaynie and Beth and Dixie and Chaya and Shulamit and Debbie. I did hang out with G Sunday afternoon--we went to Ocean Beach where the freezing wind roared in our ears and he got some good photos of crazy windsurgers and para-sailors. The surf was so strong, the green glittering water so cold and rough I admire anyone with the guts or foolishness to even get near it, let alone in it. This one guy who was wind-surfing close to shore had a board that flipped around so he zigzagged at an incredible speed back and forth with the wind, looking like an insect clinging to his big plastic wing.

Wing: wind.

At the faculty meeting for New College Friday I read the student evaluations for my memoir class. Some of them loved me, loved the class. Others were critical; it wasn't well enough organized, the reader was a mess (true, I didn't know how to get it copied right, I'll do that differently next time.) I didn't talk enough about craft issues, the student presentations were like book reports. Ouch. There was truth in the critiques.

I am off-the-charts intuitive, and everything I know about writing I've learned through reading voraciously and absorbing other writers' styles through my pores. Some of what they do has stuck to me, mixed in with my own unique digestive juices, my sweat, my karma, and come out as my style, whatever that is. I don't think about style when I write. I aim for transparency, to be a clear window, through which the world can be seen. But of course, there is style, there is structure, and they can be taught. And people who are paying university tuition expect to be taught them, taught in a certain way.

Next semester, I think I really should sit in on some of my colleague's classes, in order to learn what they are doing and how they do it. I thought that this last semester, but I didn't have time. I probably won't feel I have any more time next semester, but it's a question of priorities--if I want to be a better teacher, if I want to stretch and enlarge the place of my tent as the Arabs say, I'll do it.

And synagogue, and lovemaking, and my little sister, and friendships, and my own creative work?

I'll have to find or make time for all of it. When I wrote The Largest Possible Life, I should have added a subtitle; "and the time-management skills for all of it."

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

New moon, time to plant seeds, intentions. See How We Almost Fly, the poetry manuscript is chugging out of my printer as I type this. I'm also copying over the song lyrics I scribbled in my notebook last night while I was teaching a Writing Salon Creative Writing class for the musical, to send to C.

Masankho's wireless internet service went out yesterday and the modem is in my room, so he came up here and tried to get it going again and in the process killed my internet service. We spend an hour and a half on the phone this morning with a very patient tech support woman named April who walked me and then him through a bewisldering and frustrating series of steps which culminated in me getting my email again.

But he came up to my room fifteen minutes later complaining his service was off again. Then he left for an interview. So I'm madly trying to type up and email the first scene of the musical (which I also wrote last night) to C before Masankho comes back and potentially disrupts my service again. I love him but I want to scream, This is my only day off! I need to get everything out now!! But of course that's not true. Next week I'll have Friday as well as Wednesday and the week after that the high school will be finished and I'll be an almost free woman.

Meanwhile, scenes for the musical are bubbling to the surface of my mind.

It helps that I had this idea before, did a little work on it and then put it away. In the time since, it's simmered away quietly in my subconscious.

Monday night I went to see The Lives of Others with G because Dad loved it so much he called and urged me to see it. It was powerful, especially the actor who played the Stasi agent, his big hungry eyes that seemed to swallow up his face. He looked almost like a bug--I don't mean that in a bad way (what other way is there in which to mean it?)--but like one of those cartoon bugs that are all expressive eyes and no body. The scene where he had sex with the fat middle-aged prostitute and begged her to stay for an extra minute of warmth was heartbreaking.

I love European films because the actors look like real people--the prostitute was dumpy and tired-looking with sagging breasts. If it were an American movie she'd be played by Julia Roberts and they would end up getting married or something.

Okay, I have to get back to planting seeds now.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sunday morning we were awakened by my 8-year-old nephew chirping "Happy Mother's Day!" and trying out his new jokes for the talent show. Sample (he made this one up himself): "How did the gum cross the road?" "It was stuck to the chicken's foot."
What can I say, he's a genius.

It was 7:30 a.m.

"He is a genius, but maybe you could give him a tutorial about the time difference," C said with a pillow over his head.

This morning, the cat walked across my esophagus at 4:00 in the morning, which is cats' favorite times to do things like that. For punishment I banished him from the bedroom where he whined and cried outside my door.

I'm pretty much over the cat thing.

The show finished Saturday night to another very good house, although I was sad that a few of my good friends had health crises at the last moment which kept them away. Maybe we can resurrect it in some form or other at another venue. So much work went into the show, and it was so well-done, it seems a shame to retire it after only four performances.

We're looking into other spaces and if anyone reading this blog knows of a good venue with theatre in the round potential, please let me know.

Saturday night I also read a bit from my memoir piece Drama Queen at the New College faculty reading, right before See How We Almost Fly. It went well. My department chair loaned me his reading glasses and afterwards hugged me and whispered that a close relative of his had MS.

I am not technically the strongest writer on the block, but it seems as if I have some intuitive place that connects with other people's experiences.

C's response to See How We Almost Fly was "I want to collaborate with you." We started talking about writing a musical together--I'd do the book and lyrics and he'd write the music.

"What are your favorite musicals?" he asked.

"Caroline, or Change," by Tony Kushner (actually, more of an opera.)
"Hair"--I used to come home every day from seventh grade, where I was dying of depression and social awkwardness, and push aside the furniture in the living room and dance to the Hair record, flinging my head and neck around like a writhing serpent. I also loved "Jesus Christ, Superstar," and "Godspell," and "Tommy," (again, some of these quaify more as rock operas.) I love "Rent."

I asked C the same question and he mentioned "Cabaret," "West Side Story," and "Threepenny Opera."

Yesterday, C skipped his jazz piano class and I skipped a music-jam barbecue and we just lounged around. Went out for a 10,000 calorie brunch at Lois the Pie Queen, then to Amoeba Records where we bought soundtracks for Hair and Rent and Caroline, or Change, then back to his place for a listening orgy. He had set several poems to musical arrangements as an undergrad and we heard those compositions which had the flavor of art songs. I could see this working!

A couple of years ago I really wanted to write a musical and had borrowed a bunch of videos from my musical theatre loving friends. I watched Into the Woods by Sondheim and didn't like it too much. Of course a musical is even harder to get produced than a regular play. I got involved with other writing projects and put the idea on the back burner.

For the past two years I've been quietly incubating the desire to write a play about military recruitment. I suggested that as a topic to C for our musical. Of course this will bring a whole new level of challenge into the relationship: collaboration, compromise, negotiating differing ideas and aesthetic visions.

Meanwhile, to do:

Find keys (clean room)
comments on two more classes worth of student poems
another free-lance article for More (make money)
send out poetry manuscript for See How We Almost Fly to at least 10 contests, publishers, etc.
liposuction on the second act of Saying Kaddish asap before Jewish Ensemble Theatre submits it to the Ann Arbor play festival
revise the play I wrote last summer, That Greeny Flower
write and illustrate a little storybook for another nephews' seventh birthday
shots for Africa
eye exam and new contact lenses
get back to my fighting weight and full strength, work up to swimming a mile at a time and quit sugar again

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Went to See How We Almost Fly again last night and there were eighty people there! Eighty!! They had to bring in extra chairs! It was fantastic!! A little dance-poetry performance never gets that kind of turn-out--often a small, start-up dance company is lucky if the audience outnumbers the performers! A lot of old friends came, and even my aunt Varya, who lives in Berkeley, and they all loved it. I got to chat with Elizabeth's mom afterwards and kvell with her about how talented and brilliant her daughter is. It must be an amazing feeling to see your child create such beauty in the world.

I spent last Wednesday reconfiguring the poetry manuscript for See How We Almost Fly for the fifty bazillionth time, pulling out older, weaker (I think) poems and replacing them with newer, stronger (hopefully) poems, re-ordering the work, and just generally trying to get it right.

I'll send it out next week to all the contests with deadlines in May, cross my fingers, hope for the best. I am definitely ready to have a second book out by now--have been ready for five years, not that I'm counting, but these things have their own timelines. It's looking like Saying Kaddish With My Sister may finally see a full producion in '09 or '10--only eight years after I wrote it. Overnight success!

I'm not so angsted out by the whole process as I used to be though, because I have figured out the solution, which is to have a lot of projects going at once, large and small, independent and mainstream. That way, something is always coming to fruition, even while other things are taking years to manifest.

That and finally having a fulfilling personal life, which was long-overdue and definitely takes the edge off my driven desperation to achieve. I'm a late bloomer, that's for sure. First book in my early forties, true love in my late forties, first full-length play production at 50, if I'm lucky. I guess all this means I need to take my vitamins and drive carefully, since I'll be wanting a few decades in which to enjoy and savor the fruits of the harvest.

My dad called this morning and we talked what a great visit he and my sister had here. It really was perfect--and packed. Can't believe it was only a week ago. The weeks are so full, and I feel like I'm barely keeping up, juggling full plates and dropping half the food on the floor.

Dad had the opportunity to have dinner with my two brothers the other night, just the men--and says what a lucky man he is, to have had me and Emily last week and the boys this week. He talked about how hard my brothers both work--corporate jobs, both of them, good money but no time for themselves or any hobbies or creative pursuits. It's all work and family, work and family. I know this is the "normal" American lifestyle and both my bros are good fathers, good workers, good men. I just wish we lived in a culture that valued community and participation in the arts as much as it does quarterly reports and stock options.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The cool dim early mornings are so delicious now I find myself getting up at 6:30 a.m. to have some time before the heat and glare of the day. It's been so hot I sleep with just a sheet, and the windows open. Sometime around four a.m. a cool thick breeze rolls in, letting me snuggle under blankets for an hour. By eight in the morning the sun is blazing and the butter is melting in its dish. The cat goes looking for someplace shadowy to hide. I pour my second cup of coffee.

For the past two days, every moment that I'm not swimming or meeting with students or writing comments on student work I've spent promoting See How We Almost Fly and Oasis. I made at least 20 or 30 individual phone calls to friends and theatre colleagues (which entailed having some great conversations.) Wrote a bunch of emails, some individual, many mass ones, to all the people and groups I know.

I'm not usually such a good PR person for my own work, but this feels bigger than me. The two young directors, Stuart Bousel and Elizabeth Mendena are so talented, and have done such an amazing job putting these shows together. The actors and dancers are beautiful and fearless and completely committed. Not one weak link. It feels like a group act of love. I would be calling my friends and urging them to see the shows even if I hadn't written them. They are worthy of being seen.

Today: three poetry classes at the high school, then a two and a half hour poetry intro class at Writing Salon in SF. The only thing that will save my bacon is if I get in a good swim. Even though I'm swimming more, my weight won't budge--ten ounds up from last year when I was so buff. C doesn't mind, and no one else seems to notice, but I like the skinny feeling when my clothes are loose around my waist. Also, the coffee seems to be making me more tired rather than giving me energy. Hmmm...

Sunday, May 06, 2007

My God, my God. I need to fall on my knees in gratitude. I need to pray. I need to be grateful for the rest of my life for this past week, and the love and beauty that accompanied me on every step of it, from last Sunday when C drove me to the airport and I met Evelyn and Masankho came to see Saying Kaddish, to this morning, when I drove my sister Emily and my father to the airport after an incredible evening last night at See How We Almost Fly.

I don't know how to even begin to say it. I don't know how I am even walking around upright--(although I barely am--I spent most of today in bed.) I got back from Detroit Wednesday night. Rolled out of bed Thursday a.m. and taught four classes at the high school. Made an ineffectual stab at cleaning the house on Thursday night because my family was coming but I was just too tired and jet-lagged to do it.

Taught again Friday morning--four classes of first graders, then drove directly to the Marriott and picked up Dad and Em and brought them back to my house. Which was dazzlingly clean and beautiful. My roommate Julie, to whom I had spoken three sentences at 7:30 in the morning to the effect of "Oh well, I wanted to clean for them but I just didn't have the energy, guess we'll all have to grin and bear it," had whipped through the house like a tornado. The bathroom sparkled. The kitchen gleamed. There were cut roses from the garden in glass water jars on every surface. She had even gone into my room and remade the bed and turned over the sheets and arranged the pillows so that it looked like a bed in a hotel. All that was missing was the mint on the pillow.

That evening C came over with gifts of books for Em and Dad (his idea.) We went out to the Tenderloin to see my one-act play Oasis at the Exit Theatre.

For years my sister lived in a village of 700 people. Last year she moved to a town of 2,000. We probably passed that many people on the way to the theatre, and half of them were homeless. Things are tough in the Tenderloin. It was kind of Night of the Living Dead, with claw-handed beggars and emaciated crack addicts and bundles of rags sleeping in doorways. We ate at Original Joe's an Italian place that my father found reassuring because he peeked in the window and saw a maitre d' in a tuxedo. Good solid food.

My Dad and Emily and C found their rhythm together. All three of them love books and music and have quiet, almost sly senses of humor. Dad reminisced about some of the more painful experiences he's had in forty years of attending my performances. In particular, he remembered an unfortunate woman who was perhaps off her meds who used to read her voluminous and incomprehensible poetry at a little hole-in-the-wall gallery called Stone Soup, where started my poetry-reading career at age eighteen. Here we were, thirty years later, stepping over bodies to get to the Exit Theatre on Taylor to see my weird little allegory Oasis performed.

I was amazed at what the director, Stuart Bousel, and the actors had done in only a few short weeks of rehearsal. It was fantastic! They were fantastic!! They brought out layers and nuances in the words that I hadn't even been conscious of. A few deft touches, a jar of olives, inspired costumes, sensitive interpretations and staging--I was impressed and grateful that my work had fallen into such capable hands.

My play was followed by a shorter one about Robin Hood and a mouse which gave my Dad fodder for teasing me for the next thirty years. Both he and Em were beyond exhausted, but they were troupers and held up well, yawning and blinking. I had been afraid that some of the content of Oasis would trigger them, but it didn't--either that, or they were too tired to notice.

Yesterday I took them to the Farmer's Market, where we ate Brazilian cheese bread made with yucca flour, which they loved, and then Emily and I went down to the Cinco de Mayo celebration at the foot of my street. Her eyes got huge when she saw
all the Mexican people thronging the streets, pushing strollers, enjoying barbecue and music and corn on a stick slathered with hot sauce and pina colada popsicles. She is good friends and a support to a Mexican family in her area, but she says they are isolated in a place where hardly anyone speaks their language. Here, Spanish was the lingua franca, and everywhere there were Mexican flags waving and arches made of red green and white balloons and red green and white ribbons in the little girls' hair, braided elaborately like Frida Kahlo, like little Aztec princesses.

We got back to the house hot and sweaty--I had just time for a shower before G picked us up and drove us into SF to St. Gregory's for See How We Almost Fly. Dinner with my stepmother's spiritual mentor and her husband and we met up with my stepsister and a friend. And then the show.

I almost lost it. In a church with a vaulted cathedral ceiling hung with strings of brightly colored peace cranes, with an eclectic pantheon of saints painted dancing in a circle all around the high walls--Malcolm X holding hands with Queen Elizabeth, Lady Godiva sashaying next to some gay Roman centurians, and on and on, in a divine cosmic conga line.

This is the part where words fail me. Because what Elizabeth and the other dancers have done with my words, my poems is so glorious, and moving, such a total sacrifice in the sense of the word "make sacred," such a gift, to me and to the world, that I can't think of anything worthy enough to say about it. Except that from the first note of music coming from Sekh Ma-at's throat I was blown away. Blown. Away. And it did not let up.

Power. Grace. Generosity. Passion. Love. The dancers kept giving and giving, everything they had, their bodies, their breath, their souls, and I saw my poems come alive in a series of scenes, songs, arias until I almost couldn't take it all in it was so rich.

I stole occasional glances at my Dad and Emily. No yawning, no blinking. They were rapt.

I thought my heart would burst. Elizabeth pulled me onstage for the final bow and I had to restrain myself from prostrating on the floor and kissing the dancers' feet--their precious, hardworking feet which they had selflessly worked to the muscle and tendon and bone in the service of beauty.

After that a blur of people hugging and talking and wanting to introduce everyone to my family and at the same time not wanting to overwhelm them because they were still jet-lagged. Thank God G was there to drive us all home afterwards because there is no way I could have managed it. I am still not sure how I managed to get my folks to the airport early this morning, and I got lost on the freeway coming back--a short two-exit sprint I have travelled dozens of times.

Home, Julie and I talked a kvelled a bit, then I tried to nap. It was hard to shift down, to let go, to realize that I could let go--and that I'd better if I wanted to have energy to teach again this next week. Finally I talked with C, and was able to catch up some with his life, which grounded me, and then I slid under the waters of sleep.

At the Chinese restaurant right before the show I had gotten a fortune cookie which read, "You will soon gain something you have always wanted," and I thought What? What have I wanted that I don't have now? I have my family's respect as well as their love--I always had their love, but I don't think I always had their respect. Now I do. Is that it?

I have a sweet lover in my life, a man who can cry and laugh and show emotion, a man who can feel and love and play and listen and talk. He shows up. After all the excitement and shlepping of the last week it was perfect to just make some dinner and eat on the porch with the slight breeze carressing our bare legs, the scent of jasmine and the fig tree bursting its bounds, and the noise of motorcycles and car stereos roaring up the street. The gorgeous silver earrings he gave me swing from my ears like precious talismans.

I got to put beauty out into the world, helped by people whose gifts and talents humble me.

And friends. And love. And music. And my Dad and my sister healthy and vital enough to come and share it with me.

Years ago, in Boston, in my early twenties, I saw a show that Elizabeth Swados had put together, of poems set as little theatre pieces. I still remember Sylvia Plath's The Applicant done as a waltz, and Delmore Schwartz' In Dreams Begin Responsibilities. So many years ago. In that moment, I yearned woith all my heart to do work like that, but I did not see how it could ever be possible. I didn't know how a life that included such work could be possible. And now it's here, and I am, and we are.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

It stopped raining in time for the play reading, and we had about two dozen people there. Average age: seventy. That was okay, though; they were passionately engaged with the issues--a little too passionate about the issues, one man really didn't get that it was the character's viewpoint, and not my own thaqt I was expressing. Q & A afterwards with me.

I had started the day with another luxurious swim--had a lane all to myself for over half a mile--and ended it stretched out on Evelyn's sofa, drinking wine and eating very good chocolate (I know, I know,) and talking about Life until the wee hours of the morning. Bottom line: Evelyn Orbach really likes the play, and God willing and the creeks don't rise, I think that means JET will do it as a production either in 2009 or 2010. (Geez, do those dates even exist? They do, and they'll be here before we know it.)

Meanwhile, JET will send my play to an Ann Arbor festival of new plays in June--again, another reading--and I'd like to edit the fat off of it before then. Flesh out the father's character a bit, and trim down some of the more didactic parts of the Passover scene and the courtship scene and maybe the taxi scene.

I flew home, quiet and relaxed in the clouds above the country. Oakland! As soon as the plane got close to home I felt my heart leap up. Detroit was much more civilized than I thought it would be--before I left C and David and I were sitting around the kitchen table drinking coffee and joking about how people wash their laundry by beating it on the rocks in Michigan and how I'd probably be swept off my feet by a knuckle-dragging snowmobiling football-watching yahoo with a deer strapped across the hood of his jeep, but I met no such animal.

Instead, the actors were professional (much better than the ones who did my show in NY last year) the people responsive, cultured and intelligent (granted, I was meeting with mostly Jews and artists. But still. My East and West Coast snobbery stands abashed.) And yet there's no place like home.

C met me at the gate and we had a romantic reunion which included a nap and dinner at the little Vietnamese place right up the street from my house. And then work today, four classes at the high school, which went well despite my jet lag. Now I've got to clean my room and the car before Emily and Dad get here tomorrow. At least make a stab at appearing organized.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Shit! It's raining! Pouring, actually, a drenching, midwestern rain. I hope it won't keep people from the show tonight. I hope Michigan theatregoers are a hardy and dedicated lot, even for a staged reading. I hope it lets up before this evening...