Thursday, June 28, 2007

Back to working on the occurs to me that this blog is full of half-finished projects. Not surprising, since so is my life. Whatever happened to that Gee's Bend quilt I started months ago, after seeing the exhibit in a museum? Still in progress, I have a date to go over my friend Beth's house next week and work on it.

I did three more pages of what C calls recititif (is that how it's spelled, or does it have another syllable or two in it?) that operatic kind of sung speech. Very fun. I'll finish the scene today. Also, I quizzed G at our tennis game, about chants he sang in the Navy. He said they had chants for marching, chants for running, chants for disassembling and reassembling their rifles.

Both G and C know how to take a gun apart, clean it, and put it back together. I have fired a gun exactly once--at a target, in Alaska, which I missed. Got a sore collarbone for my efforts. The mystique of guns eludes me.

Some chants, courtesy of G: "I don't know but I've been told/Russian pussy is mighty cold." (It was during the Cold War.) And: "I don't know but I've heard said/Air Force wings are made of lead./I don't know but I've been told/Navy wings are made of gold." Apparantly, there's rivalry between the different branches of the military. If anyone reading this blog knows of any military songs or chants, please write and tell me.

Questionnaires continue to trickle in--thank you! to everyone who filled one out. Now I have to write up a book proposal for the project. Some of my friends report that the questionnaires brought up feelings of sadness; writing about unrealized dreams. James Baldwin said, "In order to have the lives we want, we must first be honest about the lives we have."

I saw Hurly Burly, a play by David Rabe, with Marci last night. It is indeed virtuosic, the language that tumbles out of every character like machine gun fire or Niagara Falls, or any unstoppable force. Just torrents of dysfunctional, colorful, provocative, obscene, musical verbiage. Torrents. And the despair of the characters is well-drawn, and it's an actor's dream, because each man is so well-delineated (the women a little less so.)

But that's just the thing--everyone talks the same way, which leads me to believe, of course, that it is really David Rabe speaking. And it's all drug-fueled, alcoholic dysfunction, more floried and dramatic and scary and sad and grotesque in each succeeding scene--for three hours. I didn't want to stay until the bitter end as I'd left my car at West Oakland BART, so I snuck out after the second intermission and before the very short third act. It makes me glad My Hot Tub with Andrea is just a one-act--no need to hit people over the head with language just because you can.

My friend Nike wrote me some very good feedback on the hot tub play, feedback that makes me want to reenter the script and have another whack at it, get a few layers deeper and more risky with the characters. Meanwhile, the guy who is going to direct Saying Kaddish in Michigan in January, Chris Bremer, wrote and asked me to write a few more little scenes. And C is kind of architecting the musical, thinking of scenes and requesting I write words for them. I can't wait to hear some of the songs and musical settings he's composing.

G and I played a good hard game of tennis today, bright and clear and hot. We weren't as stellar as last week when we had just watched a Billie Jean King documentary and were all inspired to play the best we've ever played, but we ran each other up and down the court and sweated and cursed and exulted.

I love summer!!! I love C being free and happy and relaxed, I love the late light afternoons and balmy evenings, and the dry hot tennis courts.

I am reading Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, about Dr. Paul Farmer, the doctor who went to Haiti and established a health clinic for the poorest of the poor there. This book is kicking open doors in my memory: Haiti, the smell of burning shit that pervaded the streets--peasants burn dung, they burn whatever they can find for cookfires, now that so much of the island has been deforested.

Barefoot women with heavy loads on their heads, their dresses open completely in front and nursing babies hanging off their long breasts. Naked little children, the chickens and goats wandering in the streets, the skinny men harnessed to giant sledges like mules, every muscle and tendon and nein in their bodies swollen as they pulled and strained and pulled impossible weights, their hearts visibly bursting out of their bony chests.

Every sentence in the book reminds me of the road not taken--I could have stayed working with Haitians, could have married a Haitian, as Farmer did, could have settled there or in Miami and worked as a translator, English teacher, health instructor, counselor. Instead I abandoned that line of work and came home to write and teach poetry, do theatre and live in English speaking culture. I live in a big house with good plumbing instead of a small shack. I drive everywhere instead of walk, I am safe and comfortable and protected and published. It's not a bad life, not a bad life at all. And yet...

Monday, June 25, 2007

I went with my grrlz to Pt. Reyes for a quickie retreat. We sang the Shabbat morning service on the way up, courtesy of Beth, who knows all the sacred music. Stopped at Cafe Gratitude in Marin, which is the most Californian of possible California experiences--all raw food, (but delicious!) and the atmosphere is permeated with irony-free positivism. To that effect, dishes are all named things like "I am worthy," and "I am blissful," "I am peaceful," etc. I looked in vain for "I was raised on the East Coast and am still attatched to the one cynical edge I have left," but no luck.

They do have a kick-ass chocolate shake, made with raw cacao, almond milk, kelp, vanilla, and agave nectar--amazing. Add fresh mint and go crazy.

The cabin that Ellen rents 10 days a month for a writing studio is in the middle of the woods and there were millions of butterflies. It must have been the one day of the year they all decided to hatch or mate, or whatever. Clouds of butterflies and moths. The air was alive with them.

Honesty compels me to confess that in the midst of this idyll I was cranky and headachey. I think I was having a touch of typhus from the oral vaccine I've been taking for the last couple of days. I felt feverish and had to nap. Also, I love Ellen dearly, but us living together is a Bad Idea, since she is totally neat and clean, meticulously detail-oriented, a bit finicky, an obsessive planner and a worrier and I am not.

I think it's easier for me when we Libra girls go to Harbin, where there are the hot tubs and the swimming pools and hiking trails, and the library--tons of places to go to get away from each other, and then come back refreshed. In this place it was just the three of us confined to one room. But Ellen and Beth don't like Harbin because the men are always hitting on us, and ogling, and the heterosexual energy is too strong. Whatever.

We went to a wonderful yoga class together in the morning--God, this is sounding so Californian--and ate the most fantastic, expensive, organic produce for lunch and dinner--especially a triple creme cheese made with sheep's milk that is produced locally and melts in the mouth like butter. Had lively arguments about SM and Paris Hilton (don't ask.)

All the while though, I was aching to reconnect with C--it had been a week, he had a hellacious, stress-filled final last few days of school and could only go to work and collapse afterwards. I was wringing my hands on the sidelines--it was like watching my father suffer through running a marathon when I was a kid. Finally, finally, he would stumble over the finish line, his face white with salt and exhaustion. C more or less finished up his school year like that.

At our retreat, Ellen and Beth and I all showed each other the main projects we are working on. Ellen has a wildly imaginative novel for young people that's half-finished; Beth is planning a concert of songs for her 40th birthday; I'm brewing the Questionnaire Project, plus the musical with C, plus some revisions of plays and a new play, plus poems and essays.

I showed them the chart I made last year to track my project-ideas, and how many of them had come to fruition--a surprising amount. I myself was amazed at the harvest. I made a new chart, with a sun in the middle, with God Is All There Is, and rays going out holding all the new and old ideas. I did it in black pen on white paper, so it's very plain; as I complete each project, I'll color it in, so by next year it will be rainbow.

God, this is a terribly Californian entry. I can't help it, it's the midsummer madness of the long long days, the butterflies drunk with sunlight and scent, and finally, Sunday evening, the tender reunion with C--a bath, lovemaking, a dinner out with red meat and red wine, a perfect balance to all the spiritually correct wheatgrass lesbian food.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Got my shots Wednesday, five altogether; yellow fever, Hep B, tetanus, measles and mumps and rubella and I forget what else. Ouch! I also have to take oral medication to prevent typhus and malaria. It was a little scary, and exciting-- made me feel as though this thing is really happening, I am really going to Malawi.

The nurse put the fear of God into me. Can I swim in Lake Malawi? Sure, if you don't mind getting parasites, many of which are tiny and invisible and burrow into your skin where they then ravage your entire body starting with your small intestine. Oh, there's also dengue fever, which is mosquito-borne and has no known treatment; there's also bird flu, and rabies, HIV, seventeen dfferent kinds of hepatitis, and God knows what else. Don't drink the water. Don't eat any salad or fresh fruit. No ice cubes in drinks. Yeesh!

I've never forgotten to be grateful for my health, because my mom was sick for decades with MS. My ex-husband struggled for years with chronic fatigue that morphed into cancer, which killed him. The man I'm dating now has diabetes. Believe me I wake up every morning and thank God my legs work, my breathing is good, I have some spring in my step. I don't want to lose that--not now, not ever. My health is the one "possession" I guard most jealously--if it's possible to guard that.

But I've always wanted to go to Africa. People there live with parasites--they live with all of it. I don't want to spend my whole life is beautiful, climate-controlled comfort, typing away on my little machine and going to the corner cafe for a latte when I "need" one. So here I am, two days after the shots, my left arm is sore, but I'm madly typing away on my latest idea for a project; something about dreams at mid-life. Not the night-time dreams (although I've always been interested in those), but the dreams which those of us North of forty once harbored, still harbor, tried to fulfill, didn't fulfill, etc.

I'm thinking maybe this could be a book; I told the idea to my friend Tim and he got excited about the possibility for a documentary film. I made up a questionnaire and sent it out to some of my friends. If anyone reading this would like to take it, here it is:

Questionnaire at mid-life
male/female/other age occupation (optional) ethnicity/nationality (optional) Would you be willing to be filmed at some later date for a documentary project?

Only answer the questions you feel comfortable answering—feel free to skip, add, amplify. Please pass this questionnaire on to your friends who are 40 or older. Ask them to return it to with the word “questionnaire” in the subject heading.

Thank you!
Alison Luterman

1. What were your dreams for your life when you were 18? How is your life like or unlike what you imagined it would be? Is it better or worse than your fantasies?

2. What was the best money you ever spent?

3. What was the worst financial mistake you ever made?

4. Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?

5. How has sex changed as you’ve gotten older? Any sexual experiences you have yet to live out that you still want to? Any surprising revelations about sex and romantic love as you age?

6. What dreams do you still hope to fulfill that you haven’t yet? What dreams have you given up on? Why did you give them up—what makes you think they are no longer attainable?

7. Who was your hero when you were 18 or 20? Who are your heros now?

8. What did you major in in college and what do you wish you had majored in? Do you still dream about continuing your education? What would you go back to school for?

9. What books, movies, people or experiences influenced you most—created turning
points or openings in your life?

10. What achievement are you proudest of? What’s your biggest regret?

11. Are there any new dreams, influences, or movements that you sense on the horizon?

12. What’s your wildest dream for the rest of your life?

You can send responses to aluterman1 (at)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Good habits alternate with bad; I work out, I eat potato chips. I write five pages of an essay; I waste untold hours playing Sudoku. I'm emotionally mature with my boyfriend; I let my room be a mess, and don't clean my desk or do my taxes on time. Perfection eludes me. The best I can do is be nice to people and try to write at least a few pages a day. That's not much, but practiced consistently it has gotten me here.

And here is...ten pounds over ideal weight--(alright 13, but who is counting?) Five unsold essays in the pipeline, awaiting/hoping for acceptances, publications and paychecks, a couple of new good ideas, queasy stomach from switching to black tea instead of coffee in an effort to lose weight (I know, but I can't drink coffee without cream, so...)

Poetry class was stellar last night--it always is. I feel like this group of people is bringing out the best in me, and frankly not having to teach 15 other classes a week means I can be more present for them as well. We have been having a fine time, word-playing, divining, shape-shifting, musicking the language. I've been learning and writing right along with them.

Today I get my shots for Malawi! Excited and nervous--I hate shots. When I was a kid I used to scream bloody murder whenever I had to get one, embarrassing my mother who said I frightened all the other kids in the waiting room. Now I'm an adult--I drive myself to the place where they will stick me. Actually the only one I'm afraid of is the tetanus--I've heard that really hurts. It might put a crimp in swimming for a day or two. I still don't have my return ticket--the travel agent who is handling all that is on vacation this week. I have to get better at making those phone calls and setting the wheels in motion. See what I mean?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Great games of basketball and tennis yesterday with G, then a turkeyburger on pita bread at Barney's, and today a long hike up in Tilden Park with C, followed by a lovely session of singing and playing with his new toy, a machine that you sing into that automatically creates different kinds of harmonies (and even corrects your pitch so that you sound AWESOME,) as well as some more good loving and eating and back on meds and I feel much better.

Carla said, "Yeah, you seemed really tired when you were over my place." That's how I used to be ALL the time, just dragging my wagon from one place to another--barely.

My sister, who is very understanding, said she wished she didn't need medication to prevent migraines--that is, she wishes she didn't get them in the first place--but she's glad the medicine is there. There's less stigma with migraines than there is with depression, but it's basically a similar thing--debilitating brain farts that fuck up your nervous system and zap energy and zest.

So, thank you, all the people who pioneered medication and tested it, and came out of the closet about using it before I did, because that helps to create a climate in which it's possible to be a person with this kind of vulnerability and still have a good life in the world. I wish this for all people with mental illnesses--that good drugs and real healings take place.

Elsewhere in the news, I just got a phone call from Michigan--my play had a staged reading in the festival of new plays and got a good reception, although the audience (composed mostly of older people) argued fiercely about the ending. I don't mind that although I had the impression that the director did. I like the way the whole country has been fiercely debating the end of The Sopranos this last week. I think it's fine not to tie things up too neatly with a bow.

But I also heard from the director that I need to rewrite one long monologue--the stand-up comedy routine that Lydia performs in a dank little basement--modelled on Val's Pizza parlor and underground theatre performance space in Berkeley. I agree that the monologue needs to be rewritten--it was always a weak spot, for one thing, she's supposed to be a comedienne, and it's not really funny--but the prospect is daunting. It's like trying to go back and redo part of an oil painting when the paint has long since dried. I already tried to rewrite it several times and didn't get any improvement--in fact I think I made it worse. But I owe it to the play, and to the fact that finally there is a real production in the offing, to try and try again.

Meanwhile, C and I had so much fun singing into his new voice machine, tinkling along on the piano, and researching the musical we are writing together by watching a governement-ssued video called The Selective Service and You, aimed at eighteen-year-old men--scary!--that now I want to write a commercial hit song with him so that he can quit his day job and we can just create art and music and theatre all day long. We have the summer to do it--but only until the end of July, so I better get cracking.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

I hate it that I need to post about Prozac and depression, but here we are again. My doctor suggested last year that I experiment with lowering my dosage by skipping a pill one day a week, and then increasing it to two, etc. Of course, with my habits, all I heard was "It's okay to skip," which is what started happening anyway as I began to get used to being healthy, and then, in one seamless step, to take that good health for granted and turn my attention back to creating new work.

Consequently, I began skipping not just the Prozac but the thyroid as well, relaxed my vigilance about sugar, and oh yeah, exercise--although I still made and make valient attempts--is hard to schedule when you're working, writing, and dating.

Which leads me to to today; PMS, a semi-sleepless night after a lovely evening with C at the hot tubs--and I awoke with a headache to the familiar awful old feeling of depression--a tight gray plastic rain-bonnet tugged down over my skull. Deep bone-crushing fatigue.

At least now I can recognize the symptoms clearly, and I've had enough experience not being depressed to know that it is an illness and not part of me. It does not mean I suck; it doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with my life. I managed to make it to Carla's and help her unpack and hang curtains and then the car drove itself across town and home where I collapsed into bed for a bottom-of-the-ocean nap.

I feel better now, but will see my doc in a few weeks. Meanwhile, I know what I have to do: more serious animal protein (potatoes not Prozac diet.) More serious exercise. Supplements. Back on meds.

My career is going great, my relationship more intimate than any I've had before. Friends and family are wonderful. Depression is not about any of those things. Depression is a collection of physical sensations and mental aches and pains that add up to a state of being unable to cope with daily life. I'm not all the way there yet--thank God, I still have plenty of cope left. But I can feel the ropes of my nerve endings fraying.

I have been noticing irritability--driving, parking, responses to the stress of city living--as a symptom, creeping up. It's not like me to be irritable--irritability is a warning sign, a marker. Next step down the ladder is this fatigue and the feelings of lightness and heaviness in the head, as if there were an energetic elevator randomly stopping off at different floors. It gets harder for me to stay present.

My doctor, whom I love, has talked to me a lot about learning to recognize and log these markers, so that I can catch myself before the elevator plunges into the sub-basement. That's why I'm outing myself here on this blog, My aim is to stay out of the sub-basement--it's an arduous road back up.

As luck would have it, my copy of Elle Magazine arrived today, with an interesting article by Lauren Slater, a memoirist (Lying,) and recovering mental patient as well as a mental health professional (and damn good writer) about when anti-depressants poop out and the differences and similarities between prescribed pharmaceuticals and narcotics. Opiates, in tiny doses, worked well for her in interrupting the cycle. Fascinating. I've never used narcotics, for anything, knock wood--never had surgery or needed major pain killers. But all substances have their uses and their limitations. I'm just grateful I live in a time when this stuff is talked about openly and without the kind of prejudice that characterized the debate even a few years ago.

If there is one thing I that makes me really mad, (oops, irritability, warning sign!) it's people who haven't experienced serious depression themselves inveighing against the widespread use of anti-depressants. Sure, SSRIs are prescribed a lot these days, and maybe too much, but as someone who had years of ineffective talk therapy while I felt like my head was going to detach from my body and my body was going to fall off the chair, after years of being too tired to live, drugs have been a miracle to me.

I know they are no panacea, and self-care is a long and winding road. My body's changing now, in my late forties; menopause is right around the corner and I'll probably have to be more vigilant and continually adjust my self-care in the years to come. If there's one thing I've learned in the past twenty or thirty years of dealing with all this stuff, it's how physical my emotional and spiritual life is. It's humbling; I am not in total control--I cannot rigidly will myself to be healthy with the proper attitude, sad to say. There is a component--a large component--that is affected by hormones, bio-chemistry, and physiology. The best I can do is respect that and ride it.

When my mother died, Ruth stayed by my side for the next thirty-six hours as I felt as if I were riding an energetic roller coaster. I mean that literally--I had sensations of rising and falling waves of energy going up and down my body. I kept saying to her, "Grief is so physical!"

At moments I needed to work and so I crawled outside into the sunshine and cleared weeds and moss from her steps. I just needed to get my hands in the dirt. At other times I sacked out and napped. At night I only slept in little bursts. I was on a train, strapped to a locomotive called grief and trauma release. I couldn't get off it--my body just had to do what it needed to do.

She hung with me as long as she could, about a day and a half, and then a couple of other friends baby-sat me for the rest of the week, and then the obvious symptoms subsided. It's possible that the six years since then have been characterized by deeper and deeper releases from trauma, mostly informal, without any practitioner to monitor them, since I had quit talk-therapy the month before, convinced that it was a waste of time.

C and I have been talking about seeing a couples counselor to see us through the delicate process of joining two highly individuated lives, lives full of creative projects, musical equipment, unfinished dreams, and important outside relationships. We want to see how we can fit it all under one roof--thankfully, one big roof--without damage. That's good, and/but I know I should do some individual work now too, preferably with a therapist trained in somatics and depression.

One of my oldest dearest friends who has a healthy thirty-year marriage, attributes the happiness of her union to the fact that she and her husband both have done their own work all the way through--that is, each of them went into individual therapy as needed, instead of blaming their problems on each other. Frankly, I have found most of the individual talk therapy I've done prior to going on meds to be pretty useless--I believe I have all the communication skills and sorting out skills--or have access to friends who have them--that I need, but I'm willing to try again with someone who has a deep understanding of the way the brain and the body work together.

My checklist for a therapist these days includes: someone who understands and speaks the language of neuro-transmitters and physiology, the yoga of trauma recovery, muscle memory and all the rest of it--a tall order, and one that can't be satisfied by just a nice person who's available for supportive conversations, which is what I had with my last therapist.

Date with G now, to either walk around the lake or play some hoops or some tennis. And later--meat! Viva recovery!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Last night my grrlz, Ellen and Beth, came over, and I made a big salad and we just hung out and toasted all the changes. New moon. What do you want to plant now?

As usual, I'm plan-challenged. This is what comes of being an improvisor. I got a taste of what it is like to relate to me when I flew to Detroit to meet Evelyn orbach. She was very breezy and relaxed about all the logistics of meeting up, didn't go into much detail, and seemed confident that everything would just work out. I was anxious because I'd never been to detroit before and didn't know her from a hole in the wall. Of course everything worked out.

So now I have to plan my return date from Malawi. And learn how to plan lessons weeks ahead of time and plan financially, and plan C's move in here--we're starting to think about it a year ahead of time, so that's good. Planning, my challenge. I got clinically depressed in high school because I couldn't plan my future--deferred going to college for a year because I didn't know what I wanted to major in, didn't declare a major until the last possible moment (I think it was senior year.)

I've had dreams, yes, but dreams are different than plans. Plans are methodical. Plans involve dates, applications, knowing what's in your bank account, what you can afford. Plans are work in the material world. The one education course I took in college was also, not coincidentally, the one class I ended up taking an incomplete in. The reason? Lesson plans. I could not for the life of me imagine how I would know a full month ahead of time what I would teach on any particular day.

I've got a friend who said she had "more five-year plans than the Kremlin." (This was back in the day when the Kremlin was still the Kremlin.) She followed her plans through law school at a prestigious university, a good career, etc. and found herself miserable. I have had less five-year plans than Peter Pan. I have no idea how I got to be almost fifty, a homeowner, or a writer with an actual career.

Now, in this new relationship, which actually has a future, I need to step up to the plate and plan. Moving-in, physical space, financial responsibilities, work, retirement, vacations, all that. And if I want to teach another class again at New College--which I do--or at another college--I need to be able to plan a syllabus, to break it down by class meeting, what we'll cover and when.

Planning gives a certain kind of power--or at least the illusion of it. Is that why I have a block against doing it? Am I afraid of that power? I'm afraid of not feeling like doing whatever it is I've planned to do when the time rolls around. Afraid of locking myself into something unpleasant. Afraid to just sit down and think methodically about these huge things--it's easier to focus all my energies on getting a poem right, or doing a Sudoku puzzle.

Instead of plans I've had obsessions. I was obsessed with finishing the play. I'm obsessed with getting my second book of poems published, and with the new poems that are beginning to emrge as a possible third book (new love poems!) I've been sitting here in front of this laptop for what feels like two weeks, first with the play and now the new poems tap tap tapping away and ignoring the necessity of calling the travel agent to choose the Malawi return date. Good work has come of it, but it's also, let's face it, denial.

So, now it's 11:20 a.m. already and I've successfully procrastinated calling the travel agent all morning. Now I've got to go to the eye doctor, and then to Carla's house to help her move into a new apartment. Way to go, Ali! Good procrastinating! One thing I did plan: hot tub tonight with C. I actually called and made a reservation. And a tennis game before that with G. Proving that priorities are priorities.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Someone stole a wheel off our green recycling bin. I noticed it as I was dragging the cart to the curb. Someone has been throwing their own old moldy cardboard in with our weeds and green waste.

Someone discards plastic bags and they end up in the garden. Someone smoked a cigarette in our driveway and left the butt. Sometimes I find a beer bottle out on the low stone fence of our front yard.

The night that recycling goes out, people with shopping carts and huge plastic bags slung over their shoulders like pack mules go scavenging through the neighborhood, looking for bottles and cans. Many are older women; Vietnamese, Mexican. Yesterday, it was a petite Mexican woman with her young son, going through our recycling at six in the evening as I put it out. Then they fingered the green figs on the big tree in front, the tree I planted when it was just a tiny gray stick, which has grown in five years, to a towering fruitful presence. I could hear them talking about how many figs were on the tree, how they were waiting for them to become ripe.

When Ruth lived here, one of our favorite things to do was to take walks through her neighborhood and scavenge for fruit. Loquats, figs, blackberries...O taste and see. We only took a few here and there.

Okay, the truth. I feel possessive of my fig tree. I love figs. I want to claim them for myself. I'm afraid someone's going to come and steal them all before I get my share. There's a selfish, hoarding part of me that wants to throw a net over the huge tree and sit under it and eat my own figs until I burst and ooze.

Fortunately, this is impossible. The birds are going to get a lot of the figs. The tree has grown so tall that unless I get a good ladder and find someone willing to climb it, I'm going to miss half of them anyway. And the tree, being a tree, is going to keep offering herself to any and all passersby without regard to ownership or possession, because that's just how she is.

Same with my sour green little guava tree by the driveway; the guavas never get really ripe anyway because this isn't the right climate for them. I have never eaten one, but I've often run across a Mexican family harvesting some when I come out to my car. I'm sure they know something about preparing them that I don't--add sugar, maybe?

I had a friend who loved flowers. When she was poor and worked a crappy job in the city, she used to walk home hiding a small scissors in her pocket. When she passed by a yard with beautiful roses, she'd snip off one or two to take it home. She needed flowers like she needed food; she needed beauty, so she stole it. Later, she became a single mother, and then opened up her own flower shop. At which point her attitude towards flower-stealers may have changed--I don't know.

Gleaning, that's what the Bible calls it. The wealthy landowners were supposed to set aside a corner of their fields for poor people to glean. I have been a scavenger myself, and a friend of scavengers. I've lived off my wits and exulted in the ingenuity of finding "free" resources in a land of excess.

Now I "own" the tree. Now I am planning to go to Malawi, a small poor country in a continent bursting with natural resources, where people live on less than a dollar a day and babies die from malnutrition.

How does this happen?

I know; theft, rape, pillage, slavery, corruption, theft, greed, theft.

I know, and yet I don't understand. How can babies die of malnutrition in a tropical country where fruit drops off the trees, where forests and jungles teem with life?

Last Friday, I danced with other Wing It! members at a benefit for Malawi. After our performance there followed a short presentation by Masankho's aunt, who works to improve conditions for the poorest villagers, especially women, who have to soak cassavas in leech-infested, human-waste-infected stagnant ponds where they are in constant danger of being raped. The average life expectancy in Malawi is 36 years due to AIDS. I've already had twelve more years of life than the average African, simply by the luck of being born in a first world country.

I know, and yet I don't understand. I can hear my neighbor next door, watering his gardeen. His young corn is calf-high already. Every year he does this, plants corn on a tiny strip of land, a city yard. I get to wash dishes and look out at an urban cornfield. Talk about a contradiction in terms.

He also grows hige dinosaur cactus, big broad flat green leaves with tiny flowers. I think you peel the succulent arms, and slice them and fry them. He also has a little arbor on which hang chayote, a green-skinned fruit with a white inside, like a potato. I bought some at the supermarket one time, to try it. It's a very delicate flavor, boiled with butter and salt.

This neighbor is so enterprising that when he noticed my yard going to rack and ruin, he just stepped in and weeded it and watered and pruned it. Of course I ended up paying him. He didn't come hat in hand, asking for a job--he just saw the work that was there to be done, the abundance of earth not being properly cared for, and went and harvested. And harvested.

I can hear the garbage and recycling trucks making their rounds as I type. Last night I talked to my poetry class about fruitful moments, the moments when worlds collide, which provide an occasion for poetry. Male and female energies. Sparks. Fecundity; abundance. These moments are always happening, I said. The world is an abundant place, abundant in meaning, magic, music, poems, and fruit.

Why do we (I) fear scarcity so much? Why this impulse to hoard what cannot be controlled?

Monday, June 11, 2007

There's so much that I still haven't said, so much life that flies by unrecorded, undigested, uncelebrated.

The guys in the jacuzzi at my gym, a former football player who is now 54 who showed me the scars on his shoulders and back from numerous injuries.

"We used to butt heads with our helmets, it was understood that if you ran into someone hard you could break a few ribs, maybe puncture a lung. Nowadays they play sissy ball."

Stringing word-beads with my Little Sister, she asked, "Do you like to kiss boys?" (There's a new boy she likes. She met him on the bus.)

Given my current situation the answer is a resounding YES! Especially one specific boy, but let's be honest, kissing in general is fun, and we can extend that category to girls as well.

But what did I answer? "Yes," I hedged, "But sometimes you know--kissing can lead to other things, so it's important not to get carried away."

"Oh, I'm not into that," she replied quickly.

"Not you, but them," I said. "You know, you start kissing and then sometimes--especially boys your age--they find it hard to stop." That's EXACTLY--practically word for word--what my mother told me--back in the Pleistocene era!! They can't stop themselves, it's the girl's responsibility to put on the brakes. Which, of course I sucked at, and thence follows history.

I couldn't believe I was still regurgitating that old chestnut!! She just looked at me the way teenagers look at you when they've asked a real question and you give them some bullshit answer--devestating. And we went on stringing word-beads. (Thank you, Robbie! for the beads.)

This morning I heard from C that one of the schools where he works was fire-bombed over the weekend. Thank God no one was hurt. It was a crappy school, falling-apart, badly-run--but still--firebombed is a pretty strong statement. He described the smoldering wreckage as he stood there--walls blasted open, desks burned, walls charred and smoking, the electricity all out. It sounded like an unholy mess.

I read to him from Adrienne Rich, twenty-one love poems. Several of them speak to me about where we find ourselves now.


Since we're not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we're not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes, we thought we'd live forever.
At forty-five I want to know even our limits.
I touch you, knowing we weren't borm tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.
--Adrienne Rich

I read this to C first, and he said, "That's beautiful." Then I read him this one:

(unnumbered, the floating poem)

Whatever happens with us, your body
will haunt mine, tender, delicate
your love-making like the half-curled frond
of the fiddle-head fern in forests
just washed by sun. Your traveled, generous thighs
between which my whole face has come and come--
the innocence and wisdom of the place my tongue has found there--
the live, insatiate dance of your nipples in my mouth--
your touch on me, firm, protective, searching
me out, your strong tongue and slender fingers
reaching where I had been waiting years for you
in my rose-wet cave--whatever happens, this is.
--Adrienne Rich

"Oh my," he said when I had finished. Eight-thirty on a Monday morning, he's standing among the smoking wreckage of his school, holding his cell phone in his hand. "That's incredible. I think I have to go soak my head now."
Mercury is retrograde and that means reminders of the past crop up everywhere. I went out with C Saturday night to hear Paul Drescher's new opera The Tyrant, (interesting, but static--just one man singing the whole time. I thought it would be better to bring in other voices.) At the theatre we bumped into one of his old girlfriends, and then afterward, when we stopped at Le Bateau Ivre for a glass of wine, another of his old lovers.

I teased him about it, but it doesn't feel bad, it feels right and rich and strange--we are both entering something so familiar and still new, that state of in-loveness when you tell your story to the other person, the layers and layers of story, the old lovers who hurt you, the ones whom you hurt, the mistakes you made, the things forgiven and not forgiven.

Afterwards we went to the Rose Garden, climbing down in the dark past frangrant rustlings, to the center of it, and tilted our heads back and looked at the stars. The Big Dipper is still the Big Dipper, and will be after both of us are gone, which is a great comfort.

Love in mid-life is more passionate than I ever would have guessed, but also tinged with melancholy. Just now, after a date with my little sister, stringing word-beads on a necklace and then seeing Spiderman 3--a terrible movie, but James Franco was great, and the allegory of the Sandman was kind of cool if overwrought--I took a wrong turn off the freeway bringing her home. I ended up getting off at the same exit--16th Ave.--where I used to get off to go home to Alan in our first apartment in Oakland, the first year we lived here when I was so lost and he was so sick.

Just that old obscure dark exit brought back so many feelings to me, like a physical rush of melancholy, and I remembered with painful clarity just how desperate I was, how grinding reality was, how hopeless, how it seemed I would never be happy, had never been happy, could never be happy.

This after a lesbian Jewish-Native American wedding today where everyone told me how well I look, and it's because I'm happy, happy, happy, and I'm reminded what a miracle that is when I get off the freeway at 16th Ave and am immediately transported back in time to 1990. Alan and I lived in a cold blue apartment in a Victorian, above a photography shop and across the street from some other industrial building that wafted dangerous chemicals. He was sick a great deal of the time, and when he was awake he was working. I was so unhappy I could barely breathe and our aprtment was cold and bare, all gleaming wood, no rugs, no carpets or natural warmth, no plants.

I didn't know how to make the place pretty, and I didn't know how to heal myself or Alan and I didn't know anyone except co-counselors whom I couldn't socialize with, and Alan's family. I was desperately unhappy and ashamed of myself for not being able to make a better adjustment. Every time I got in the car I got lost, and the neighborhood was grim--prostitutes worked the strip on International Blvd, around the corner from our apartment, and I'd find syringes and condoms in our parking lot.

There was no green around us and I didn't know how to get to the green places. I didn't know how to get to anything. Every time I got behond the wheel I got lost and kept ending up at the Coast Guard Station in Alameda. That winter of '90-'91 was so cold and we had no heat; we closed off the kitchen and sat in front of the open oven door like Russian peasants.

There was a claw-footed tub but no shower so I took baths. One of my few pleasures was going to the Farmer's Market--I went religiously, every Tuesday afternoon and Friday morning--and I got to know some of the farmers. One of them told me how to make zucchini--saute a garlic clove in olive oil, add the zucchini, add some red wine and cover. It turned out so well, and I liked the garlic so much that I sauteed cloves and cloves of it. I ate sauteed garlic until I threw up; the whole bathroom stank of it, and Alan could barely get near me, I was excreting garlic through my pores.

Persimmons were a revelation to me--I had never tasted them before. Jicama was new. Poemgranates I had seen and tasted before, but never in such abundance. Our relationship to food was fierce and unbounded; our relationship to each other full of silences, secrets, things we couldn't say.

C and I have been saying even the things we are afraid might freak the other person out; so far nothing has. Intimacy. I felt so far away from even the possibility of having this a few months ago and I am so in the soup now. Everything changed so quickly. Is changing, and ever-changing, and I am just open-mouthed in gratitude. And all the while the awareness of death dogs our footsteps--C is much more firm and persistent about facing it than I am; he is getting his affairs in order--I am sill in some kind of adolescent denial, acting as if I will live forever.

I want to live out this love. I pray for time in which to really know what it feels like to circle the seasons in love, to keep growing this intimacy, to watch his dreams evolve and fruit, to watch my own dreams flower and change. There was so much I didn't know the first time around--I had no clue, really. And the membrane is that thin between knowing and not knowing, between darkness and light, between joy and despair. I am on this side of that thin line now; I was on the other side of it before. I was on the other side of it for many years, God help me, and I see other people on the other side of it and I want to reach across and pull them over but I can't.

As I drove past the dark and gritty exit where I used to live I felt so sorry for that young woman, 31 years old, completely isolated, thousands of miles away from friends or family, with no clue how to be intimate with her husband, and no life of her own established. It has taken seventeen years to grow from there to here.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

I finished, I finished, I finished! Sweet God in Heaven, I finished.

And it's good--I have the sense that this is a good play. It's lively--it moves. The dialogue is natural. The plot has forward drive. There's even suspense.

For the last eight days my butt has been glued to the seat of my chair. I don't know what kept me here. Stubbornness? Compulsion? These voices coming through.

I finished at 7:45 p.m. Flew out the door and was in Redwood Park by 8, hiking. I felt feral, like I could eat the bark off the trees. Finished my hike in near darkness at nine, the whole city glimmering below me.

I feel wild. Feel like I could live in the woods, feel fierce and shaggy and unwashed and untamed.

Tomorrow I'll do a load of laundry and get my hair trimmed and make an appointment to do my taxes and rejoin the human race. But right now I haven't really landed yet, I'm suspended somewhere between imagination and reality, still talking to myself, still hearing these characters in that ghostly hot tub.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I wrote myself into a raw, vulnerable, chaotic, dark and jumbled state yesterday. Bottom-feeding in the soup of the psyche. Bumped into Masankho on my hurried way out the door, hair sticking out (mine, not his,) keys in hand, all askew. He was beaming beatifically, with a little paper lunch bag in his hand.

"Working?" he asked genially.

"I'm swimming in the cesspool of my consciousness," I blurted out.

He laughed. "Surely, it's not just a cesspool."

No. But there's plenty of cess in there--not just mine, either. Cultural cess, which is the whole point of taking the dip.

C confessed that he also disliked my character Jack--wanted to kill him in fact--and I myself had been contemplating various ways of doing him in. Except that I don't want this play to be like The Beauty Queen of Lenane which played at the Rep a few years ago and was an international sensation and was/is a well-constructed, but so goddamn depressing that at the end of it I felt the need to go jump off the Golden Gate Bridge--or take some Prozac. It was just so godawful grim. And violent. The only solution to the characters' dilemma was violence.

There's enough grim violent unrelievedly bleak theatre out there, I don't need to add to it. I have a redemptive image for this play--I know what it has to be--I just have to write my way towards it. And it feels like crawling through the jungle with a 350 pound man on my back.

I figured out a fix to the problem of Jack's unlikeableness--not a fix, but a complication, a needed and necessary correlative to all his bullshit. Put it in this morning. I now have 34 pages--nowhere near a finished full-length play. But this, here, is good, I think. Feels good, feels right, feels like I'm finally getting to the pay dirt.

And there's a matinee of Death of a Salesman this afternoon by A Traveling Jewish Theatre at Julia Morgan on College Ave. Only 15 dollars for Kehillah members, of which I am one. I want to go. but I haven't finished Eli The Super-Hero yet, my nephew's seventh birthday present. Or made the doctor's appointments I promised C I would make. Or cleaned up the mess in the back yard which is a fire hazard. Or figured out my return flight from Malawi and booked it, or gotten my shots. And I haven't worked out yet and I'm fat, fat, fat. Up fifteen pounds from my slender and buff era, only a year ago. I miss that feeling. Somehow, although I'm swimming and walking and everything else, the pounds won't come off.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

God, I'm in the thick of it. I'm in the soup. Twenty-five pages into a new/old play that I'm trying to bang out quickly (ha!) and my characters are really getting to me. Especially the guy. He's me, under the skin, his terrible fear that he can't love, his narcissism just covering up all this crap. And deep down the seed the spark of life.

Not having to deserve love. That's what I think I'm writing about. i didn't know that when I started. I emailed the first 10 pages to my friend Ruth and she wrote back that she liked them--they were funny--but she didn't like either character very much, as a person.

But that's just it. Not having to be "good" to be loved. The nut of it.

Meanwhile, C and I had a beautiful weekend. Saw the new comedy Knocked Up (okay, but not as good as the 40 year-old Virgin.) Went out to brunch with friends of his and then to my friend Lauren Ari's Open Studio and saw all her amazing artwork. (Check her out at I told her about Saying Kaddish getting produced in Detroit and her face transformed--there is no other way to say it--just glowed with pride and joy and kvelling, then broke open and burst into tears.

"I'm so happy for you!" she kept crying. "Oh my God, you've been at it so long, I'm so happy for you."

I was awed, stunned, humbled by her tears. This capacity to feel so much, for another person's good fortune. Her open-heartedness.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Evelyn Orbach, of the Jewish Ensemble Theatre in Bloomfield, Michigan, just called, and said they want to do Saying Kaddish--a real production!!! Costumes, sets, a real theatre and most importantly Equity actors!!! Seven years, innumerable revisions (and more to come, I'm sure,) several staged readings, it is finally happening!! Seven years!!!

It will be in Michigan on January 26, 2008. I will pack up my long underwear, unearth the eighteen year old snow boots I brought from Massachusetts and go. A real production. Just like that.