Monday, December 31, 2007

Do I appreciate the long hike C and I took today just a little bit more, given all that has happened? Do I savor stepping on soft pine needles in the bright cold, the sight of a majestic silvery white horse named Mister, the sparkling view of the bay, the cathedral of bay laurels, bending over their trunks to create a sacred dappled archway for us to walk under?

We walked and walked and walked, and on the way back took a wrong turn which put another mile and a half on our trek. By the time we got back to our car we had been walking at least two hours. Tired and satisfied, we drove to the Vietnamese restaurant right near our house and stuffed ourselves with spicy hot and sour soup and beef with fat noodles and broccoli and gravy. Went to the grocery store after that and bought chicken to roast, and bacon and black-eyed peas and bell peppers, tomatoes, and green beans for tomorrow's New Year's feast. We'll have home-picked kale as well.

I don't believe much in New Year's resolutions--hell, I make resolutions all the time, to do it on New Year's seems kind of a set-up--but I thought I'd include a list of books and plays I am wanting to read in the coming year.

The Known World by Edward Jones
A History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
Foreskin's Lament by Shaom Auslander
Unbound by Wangari Maathi
Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene
The Birthday Party and The Homecoming by Harold Pinter (plays)
The last Harry Potter book (as soon as I find a 12-year-old I can wrest it away from)
The new translation of War and Peace by Tolstoy (when it comes out in paperback)
Autobiography of Red and The Beauty of the Husband by Anne Carson (poetry)

I did read Tuesdays with Morrie while sitting in Border's Books yesterday--it was surprisingly much better than I thought it would be (I thought it would be treacly and terrible.) But the main message of the book seemed to be love, love, love--which is the same conclusion I see Carla arriving at, and the one I myself most resonate with. All the dogma, religious traditions, even meditation and spiritual practice--aren't worth a plugged nickel, unless they are backed up by, stuffed with, grounded and rooted in love.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

I won't say that the dizziness is grief because it is probably some inner ear thing, or a perimenopausal symptom, or not enough electrolytes or a potassium imbalance, but I can say that Carla's news about her health has knocked me sideways. Today we were walking, she picking her feet up carefully and placing them with an effort, me weaving around the sidewalk like a drunk in the bright cold end-of-the-year sunlight. What a pair, ALS girl and her sidekick, Dizzy Luterman.

There's laughter and tears. There's grief, humor, gratitude, gossip, fatigue, and love. There's tea and chocolate. And music. Thank God there's music. Carla turned me on to a singer named Eva Cassidy, whom I'd never heard of, but after hearing her sing "Wonderful World" on Carla's computer, I went out and bought one of her CD's. Absolutely exquisite, soaring, tender, pure voice. And dead now, gone quickly and too soon.

Right now I feel like all seven of Snow White's menopausal dwarfs: Itchy, Sneezy, Sleepy, Weepy, Dizzy, and Spacey. Oh, and Dopey.

As a psychologist would say, this brings stuff up. Carla so strong and so vulnerable right now. My sister, three thousand miles away. The short days and long cold nights. I can hear C drilling with his power tools in the next room; he has built himself a desk out of a piece of plywood he attached to the closet wall. I envy him being able to make things with his hands, practical things; nails and hammer, and saw and drill. I'd love to do some of that, but in my present condition it would be dangerous.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The past two days have been overshadowed by my friend's news: she has been diagnosed with ALS. While still holding out hope for a misdiagnosis, a remission, a miracle--we'll take it in any form, we are not picky--it has been a time of sitting stunned and teary, trying to digest the undigestable.

I can't believe my friend's courage, grace and humor in the face of this. "I'm still going to put on sunscreen," she reports. "And I'm still ex-foliating and waxing, in case I ever get to have sex again, which I hope I do."

"I hope you do too, honey, and I'll do anything in my power to help make that happen," I respond tenderly and then we both laugh very loudly, very fully, from our guts.

Damn! There's nobody like her, nobody whose company I so fully enjoy, no one else who both inspires me and makes me snort my coffee--at the same time--the way she does.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Quiet un-Christmassy Christmas, which suits me fine. We walked around the lake, about three and a half miles. Bright and sunny, the ducks shaking their dazzling tails and diving deep into murky water. Lots of other people were out also, only one couple with Santa Claus hats. We passed a couple of people who were alone and looked sad; a young woman, in heels and a nice skirt, who averted her gaze as we passed. The holidays can be so tough. I remember in previous years, when I was single, this whole stretch of time from November through Valentine's Day seemed like a gigantic plot to torment me with loneliness.

We talked about creative confidence. What gives a person the courage to create art even in the face of the world's indifference? How to deal with the fear of humiliation? Although I strive to create as safe and gentle an atmosphere as possible, every semster I have students who shake or cry when they read their work out loud, every semester there are students who drop the class, even though they paid good money to join it, and every semester there are students who jump through hoops of fire to get to their dream, whose emotional breakthroughs rival their creative achievements as they finally allow themselves to be writers. But it's not easy.

I don't know exactly why my neuroses don't land in this particular area. I'm as neurotic as the next girl in most ways. And I feel frustrated just like anyone whjen my work is rejected. I just don't, for whatever reason, interpret those rejections as a sign from God to stop. Maybe I'm just slow to get the message or something,(she says, having received yet another rejection for See How We Almost Fly in the mail this morning.)

For whatever weird combination of reasons, flourodated water, a grandmother who thought I was a genius, a hard-headed mother, sheer stubbornness is my claim to fame. Every semester at Writing Salon I encounter brilliant, deep, insightful students. The only thing that qualifies me to sit in the teacher's seat is that I've spent a few hundred thousand hours just doing the work, and that's something no degree can confer on you and no one can take away from you.

After our walk, C went off to hang with a friend, and G came over and we threw a basketball around as he had forgotten the tennis rackets. Came back and had a beer and watched Merci Pour le Chocolat, an incomprehensible French thriller starring Isabelle Huppert, which I bought because it was on sale for four dollars and I'm a sucker for anything French. G fell asleep about ten minutes in. C came home and chided him, "Don't let her force you to sit through that. You got to stand up for yourself!" (Here, I am compelled to admit that C has happily accompanied me or initiated many seriously offbeat cultural adventures, including one-woman shows, song cycles, and dragapella shows with dreaded Audience Participation, but for some mysterious reason he is resisting the latest Pedro Almodovar.)

Today is a day of waiting for my girlfriend's medical test results. Rejection slips pale in the face of this. It really doesn't matter if See How We Almost Fly gets published this year or next or not at all. Not compared to this.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Monster was just as amazing as I remembered. Theron's courage lies in showing the monster that resides in all of us, the monster that just needs love, like in Beauty and the Beast. In the fairy tale, the monster receives the love he so desperately needs and is transformed; in real life, the movie says, that doesn't happen. The monster goes beserk from lack of love, from abuse, and is destroyed.

Theron's blonde hair, made to look thin and blow-dried in bar bathrooms, even gives her a bit the look of a lion, a lion in captivity, a tortured deformed lion. The eagerness shining out from her damaged face is almost unbearable.

After the feature we watched the interview with the director Patty Jenkins and were both astonished at how young she is, and how confident and powerful. Then, dweeb that I am, I went on line to learn about the real Aileen Wuornos and discovered how many people were upset that the film depicted most of her victims as johns. Especially the families of the dead men.

I could easily put myself in their shoes as well; imagine if one of my brothers had stopped late at night to pick up a lone female hitchhiker because he felt sorry for her, or concerned for her safety. Imagine that she killed him and that then a movie was made of her life in which his motives were called into question and his life negated, while hers was portrayed with compassion.

But no two-hour movie is large enough to tell everyone's story in full...

These questions are especially poignant for me now as I wrestle with the ending of the Alan essay. Of course there is no ending in life, but essays, plays, poems and novels need to have endings. My sister and my father were both very excited about what the draft that they read, as much for personal reasons as for literary ones. They knew Alan, his generosity and his eccentricities and his difficult parts. Emily said what I had done was balanced and she appreciated what a tightrope it was. Actually, what she said was,"How did you do that?" Then she said she didn't know whether it was right to publish it. I don't know either. Of course I would change the names, but what about Alan's widow and their daughter, what about his mother and brothers? What about him, who can no longer speak for himself?

I keep coming back to: my job is to write about life, in all its weird and wonderful permutations, with as much honesty and compassion--and hopefully, beauty--as I can. Back to that one again. I repeat it like a mantra. It's my only justification, if you can even call it that. Because, as Lucille Clifton says in one of my favorite poems, I am Adam and his mother and these failures are my job.

As I type this, C is downstairs, playing his heart out on the grand piano. We have the house to ourselves--wonderful luxury!! I am so glad he is playing. I need to get up and walk. Dizziness persists, despite me drinking as much water as I can stand. A friend emailed me and said she had experienced the same thing, as a result of a virus, and her husband also. I hope this passes quickly, this black spinning; it's not fun.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

So tired my head is falling down into the keyboard. We went to Herbst Theatre last night to see the Kinsey Sicks perform Oy Vey in a Manger, an anti-Christmas show by a dragapella quartet. Gorgeous drag queens, horrible puns, amazing barbershop harmonies. I've known Irwin Keller, one of the founders, for years, and they just keep getting better.

Today C and I went out to Hayward to visit one of his former students who has graduated from Juvenile Hall to a group home. This was a day when he got to be home for a visit with his family, so we went to the family's home. C brought him strings for his bass guitar, and we brought chocolates and pastries for the family. C gave him a bass lesson, while I played tic tac toe with his mother and sister.

Their home was simple, with framed photographs of relatives everywhere. Both mother and father grew up on ranches in Mexico. The little sister is beautiful and completely besotted with horses. While C gave her brother his music lesson, she told me about every horse her family had ever owned. The mother looks to be no older than her late thirties, although she has some adult children in Mexico. She served us chicken and frijoles and soft tacos and that salty Mexican cheese, so dry it squeaks between the teeth. I asked her what she was doing for Christmas and she responded entirely in terms of food; her boy wants tamales and her girl wants posole so she's going to make both.

Afterwards C and I hiked for hours up in Redwood Park. My muscles are strong and I have no trouble going up hills, but I've been having dizzy spells lately, when I lie down in bed, and when I get up. Everything spins and I feel like I'm going to black out. I think it's just low blood pressure--too little water in my veins, so I'm trying to drink more water and eat salt whenever I can remember to.

After our hike we were exhausted and stood around dumbly in the video store trying to find a movie we could agree on. I adore C in every way that it's possible to adore a man, but he wants to see films with things that blow up (he says) and this completely goes against all the finer points of his otherwise sterling personality. I started pulling films from shelves and he started rejecting them; this one is too heavy(okay, so it was about Nazis,) this one has subtitles which are too much work, this looks like a chick flick (guilty as charged.) Why is it that there are hundreds of wonderful movies which I have not yet seen, and they all vanish from mind and view the minute we cross the threshold of Hollywood Video?

"What if it's the last night of my life and I'm watching something crappy?" C asks. I am so tired that I can't figure out if this is a reasonable thing to say or not. We compromise on Monster. Monster is a great movie--I've seen it before--Charlize Theron's performance is one continuous revelation of empathy, compassion, courage, and at-the-edge reckless artistry I've ever seen on screen, and I'm looking forward to the special features where they interview the director.

Friday, December 21, 2007

We had the world's best holiday party last night, filled with wonderful friends, good food, and lots of MUSIC. C had fixed up the dining room with mikes, speakers, etc., and the grand piano and the upright are in there. He'd also built a movable dolly for the Hammond organ. Guests included several keyboard players, a violist, a guitarist and a bunch of great singers.

The music didn't start until failry late in the feast--after seven thirty or eight. Then C nodded to his friend Loren, Amar picked up his flute and Sahib Amar got her viola out. Later, Lisa Zeiler joined the party. C had been longing to jam with her, and she was equally happy to play with him.

I love watching musicians "talk" to each other through the medium of their instruments. Far more communication is exchanged, more deeply and more efficiently than words could ever convey. I watched C at the grand piano, and Amar at the upright. Little nods and smiles and looks flashed between them as one held onto the bass line and the other improvised, and then they changed roles, without missing a beat.

It was a pleasure also to see my friends and C's friends meeting and mingling. Folks from Juvenile Hall, poets, lesbians, dancers, old boyfriends and girlfriends, former students and teachers and massage therapists. The room was crackling with the warmth of new and old connections.

C made his peerless meatloaf, as well as black bean soup with pork sausage in it. I made brussel sprouts with slivered almonds and cheese--we had salad and bread, good cheese, hummus, olives, latkes, dolmas, and dark chocolate. And plenty of wine and beer and sparkling cider. We agreed we'd hold more of these parties--the house is big enough, and everyone seems to enjoy them. Maybe once a month or so, depending on other factors. It's such a privilege and a joy to gather good musicians together and let them losse on one another. And it's a mitzvah to create diverse community in these beleaguered and lonely times.

After the party ended, and we were cleaning up, our housemate Libby's shower overflowed, flooding stinking black water all over her bathroom. C tried to snake it but to no avail. We ended up staying up till midnight, emptying her shower with buckets, and mopping the floor. This morning, a plumber came with a power snake and got it cleared out, with the cheerful information that I'd need to replace lengths of the old pipe to the tune of $2800.00. When he heard that, C suggested we invest instead in a set of our own plumbing tools and some instructional videos and learn how to do the work ourselves. I'm dubious but willing. It's an old house; I've been told the pipes would need replacing sometime. But maybe he's right and this is a chance to learn something new.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Everything is going slow as molasses, but at least I finished the Alan essay, finally--or at least a draft of it. Then, thanks to the glory of email, I sent it out to a couple dozen of my closest friends and family, which leaves me free now to work on the Marie Antoinette play, go to the bank, wash towels and bathmats and confirm airplane flights for Detroit and Massachusetts.

Except that I don't feel like doing any of those things. I don't know what I feel like. At least the house is a fraction warmer than it has been. It's been colder than a witch's tit, as they say back in New England (although back there it actually is, whereas here, when I can see my breath in the parking lot, I start whining and shivering and complaining.) Last night C and I went to bed wearing sweatpants, t-shirts, sweatshirts, wool socks, the works--under an electric blanket. It wasn't a bad night either, except for the cat and the dream about the wooden cell phone with the ring tone of Bing Crosby singing "White Christmas."

Yesterday, as I was driving a friend back from the accupuncturist's, we found ourselves stuck in holiday traffic, trying to get on the bridge. In a car in the next lane over was a Pontiac with a young African American woman in it, grooving to the radio. She couldn't see us, as we were slightly behind her, but we could see her--she was dancing, drumming on the steering wheel, shaking her head, bouncing and wriggling for joy and music, all alone in her car, her private world.

"Oh, I love her!" my friend exclaimed, as we inched forward in traffic, my beautiful friend who is facing a potentially life-threatening diagnosis. "Now that's a happy woman!"

On the drive over, we had talked about happiness, how much of it comes from the body, for both of us, how hard it is to conceive of being happy without being healthy. Yoga, dancing, love-making, eating good food, singing, sleeping well, hiking till you are flushed and sweaty, swimming...I don't know how to be happy apart from these things. Then my friend played me a song she had recently recorded, a cover of John Lennon's "Blackbird," and the car filled up with impassioned sax, and her clear, gorgeous voice singing, "Take these broken wings and learn to fly..."

Monday, December 17, 2007

It's hard to readjust from our full full weekends to weekdays when C goes off early to work and I'm facing the blank computer screen. This morning I made myself coffee and made substantial progress on the essay about Alan. I worked until the tears came, and then I blinked them away, surprised that I still had so much feeling after we've been split up for 14 years and he's been dead for three.

I suck at transitions, shifting gears, moving on. Look, it's even hard to say good-bye to the weekend and start over although there are things I love about my work life too. I know life is change; it's just hard for me to do it. There's a part of me that's absolutely fixed and immutable. I still love everyone I ever loved, no matter what has happened. I could say something dramatic like "Soul marriages know no divorce" (which I've typed three times here, and then deleted, because it sounds so ridiculous) but be that as it may, in the real world, of course everything is always shifting. Still, (and this is not necessarily a recipe for mental health,) there's a way in which emotions are preserved in amber inside me, like the prehistoric mosquitoes stored in hardened Jurassic sap that reconstructed a whole lost world in that movie that was so scary I ended up spending half of it out in the lobby with a couple of ten-year-olds.

And of course relearning the steps of intimacy--like riding the proverbial bicycle--brings it all up again. Right this moment I am trying to master the part where you come so closely together your souls touch--and then you come apart to live your separate lives. Both steps are important, like the opening and closing of wings, or inhaling and exhaling, or the contractions of a woman's vagina in orgasm or childbirth.

I am trying to relearn that because Saturday was a day of extraordinary closeness, vitality and intimacy, and Sunday was a day of cleaning house and taking a psychic step back. Both are good and necessary. I'm just so much more comfortable with one half of the equation than the other.

We went to see "Argonautika" last night--it was held over at the Berkeley Rep--another gorgeous, huge, Mary Zimmerman production, mythic and contemporary all at once. I loved her version of Ovid's "Metamorphoses," which I saw several years ago at Zellerbach, and which moved and changed me Among many other things I love her chutzpah--like that of Julie Taymor, another idol--to put her big fresh woman's vision up on the stage, intimate and archetypal, physical and spiritual all at once.

And Saturday night, after our lovely, knee-shakingly intimate afternoon, we went to see Rebecca Riots, an all-women's folk trio at The Frieght & Salvage, a local club. Eve decker, Andrea Pritchard, and Lisa Zeilor, on guitars, vocals, mandolin, percussion and a little harmonica, singing original songs about spirituality, politics and love--and sometimes, at their best, all three at once. Delicious and inspiring, they brought my energy back from the sexual whirlpool down to earth, where there's homelessness and environmental crises and not just all this love love love stuff.

I got to play tennis with G this weekend also--he's back on his feet again after trouble with his ankles. Exercise is the best anti-depressant for me--though Prozac helps too. I've been slowly getting back into shape, one step forward, one step back, and Saturday I felt strong and clear, blood pumping, legs nimble. I even jumped rope. Sunday of course I was tired and my butt hurt.

Today, several rejection slips--one from Poetry magazine, (why am I sending stuff there, anyway?) and one from one of the places I sent the children's stories. I'm trying to develop the discipline to just turn around and stuff the pieces into new envelopes and send them out again without getting emotionally involved in the process. Easier said than done.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I was so excited Sunday night I woke up at 4 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. I feel like my insides are melting and reforming in the chrysalis of love; I feel held, very gently, and also smelted down, transformed. My colors are liquifying and getting more intense as light is refracted through old wounds. C’s presence is so gentle, so penetrating, authentic and real that my soul just keeps opening wider and wider. If he forced himself in any way I would shut down, I know I have before. But he never does.

We spent a blissful, simple, full weekend doing ordinary things, going for a hike, visiting the Guitar Center, talking, cooking, singing and practsing music; eating. For Chanukah I gave him a beautiful cloth-of-silver tallis with a note: Welcome to my Tribe. He gave me every art supply under the sun, including an easel. When I saw that, I dropped to the floor and cried. It was his customary thoroughness, no stone unturned, nothing but the best, and he thought of everything, brushes, pencils, pens, paper--he always thinks of everything.

I wrote him the lyrics for a song; he is going to write music for it. We bought songbooks and looked at drums and went home and played piano and sang together. He taught me how to pick apart chords in order to train my ear. He put together a dolly for his Hammond organ, and I helped him load it on.

Then my friend Tim Perkis got back to me about the hot tub script. Tim did an independent documentary film called “Noisy People” about the experimental music scene in the Bay Area. He and I have talked about working together on a film for years—something that could be shot on a shoe-string, locally. Two middle-aged people farting around with cameras and actors: “Let’s put on a show!”

Except it’s never that easy of course. You decide to do something—the idea os born lightly, like a fairy—and then you’re in for it. months and years of work, flailing around in the dark not knowing what you are doing or if your project will ever see the light of day. Doubt. Despair. Sheer stubbornness and willpower. And finally, if you’re lucky, some sort of production emerges. Sometimes even a little money with it.

But both of us know. I worked for six or seven years on Kaddish, and he must have put in the same amount of time on Noisy People. Time spent learning how to do it, making mistakes, making connections, putting the work down for a few months in order to have a midlife crisis, or fall in love, or earn a living, or do something else—and then pick it back up again. Meanwhile, the clock ticks and no one gets any younger.

Tim really likes the hot tub script—phew!—but is concerned about the logistics of filming in a hot tub. I suggested we rent the DVD of About Schmidt and see how the director did it in that movie. There is the great hot tub scene with Kathy Bates and Jack Nicholson—I will always always love and respect Kathy Bates for being nude in that scene in her so-far-from-Hollywood body. She is such a fine actor.

Anyway, it is not a for-sure done deal that Tim will direct Hot Tub. He’s interested but wary. He knows it will mean a year of his life—at least a year, maybe more—and angst, and dozens of logistical problems, and a lot of learning on the job. He has to be sure he’s ready for that, that he thinks it’s doable before he commits.

I’d love for the project to go forward with him. He and I have talked around this project for years. The character of Jack was someone we’d originally come up with in a much bigger, more far-flung idea for a production which we could never make given a) our budget and b) our expertise, or lack of it. I did write a script for that, and it lies languishing in one of Tim’s drawers where it will hopefully languish forever.

Out of that script, the best scene was one where Jack is in a hot tub with an ex-girlfriend of his, a much-younger woman. When I needed to write a play in eight days last June, I returned to the scene of the crime. My friend Carla, a brilliant playwright, director, actor, and singer, read the play and said it felt more like a movie to her. Duh! Of course! And so we come back full circle.

Today, Wing It! had our photo shoot in a photographer’s loft in West Oakland. For an hour and a half we leaped into each other’s arms, posed, mugged, danced, snuggled, and were serious for the camera. I hope he got some good shots. The place was full of conventional wedding albums, which didn’t interest me much, but I liked the framed nudes and unframed move posters on his walls. And I liked the loft-ness of it, the artist living space thing. My house is very much a house; regular rooms, closets, walls, doors. Lofts are all open, and the space is much more at the individual’s disposal. I just wish they were warmer and softer, especially the floors.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Countdown to Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Counting down the dark. I always do this, forgetting it's like moving--there is all that unpacking on the other end, just as difficult as the initial packing. January will be dark as well.

But today is sunny. I've been watching it through my window all morning. The fig tree has almost lost all her leaves. It was cold last night, but cozy and sweet under the covers with C. How did I ever live without this? I remember previous winters, winters of trauma and break-ups, numb, slow recoveries from grief. Also: contra dancing like crazy, folk music festivals up in the Santa Cruz mountains, steaming hot tubs under skies full of stars, singing all night. This has been variously the hardest and sometimes the most joyous time of year.

Last night G came over and the three of us watched a pretty bad movie about Beethoven: Copying Beethoven, which I had bought because it was only 4 dollars and it had Ed Harris in it. He was great of course, and the young woman who plays his copyist was also very good, and it was fun to hear and watch a recreation of the first time his Ninth Symphony was played in Vienna, startling and moving people. The scriptwriter was criminally horrible, prone to dropping such bombs as "You must listen to the silence within and only then will you know music."

I'd swum half a mile--for the first time since I got back from Malawi I think--and was feeling good. That wonderful, delicious warm, endorphin hum of a well-worked body. Sitting there, wedged on the sofa between two of my favorite guys, sipping wine, blankets over knees, making fun of the ridiculous dialogue, I felt incredibly rich and blessed and lucky.

I've been using the artificial deadline of the Solstice as a spur to squirrel-like industry (although it often, too easily devolves into squirrel like distraction.) Time to plant plant plant my little seeds. This morning, I revised and re-sent out the Listening essay. I made a little more progress in writing the long essay about Alan, my ex-husband, which is a fraught emotional minefield for me, loaded with grief and guilt and (hopefully) some buried treasure. That will take more doing, but I have four pages now, hard-won.

I finished the third or fourth revision of the hot tub play and sent it out; I heard some good things back from initial readers, and am waiting for my busy dramaturg friends to get to it. Patience is not my strong suit, but I try to ride out the waves of excitement, anticipation, and despair by getting busy with something else constructive. God knows there's enough to do. I still have to work the musical, the Paris Hilton play, and the grocery store play That Greeny Flower, whose first draft I wrote fourteen months ago.

I sent out the latest version of the poetry ms., now called Sustain, to seven different contests.

I sent out two children's stories to five different presses, some large, some smaller.

It's hard to do all this work, invisibly. Everyone else is at some kind of job, earning real money and being seen gossipping at the water cooler with colleagues. I don't envy C who has to go out in the chill dawn and deal with beaurocracies all day, but I do envy him that he gets to touch the lives of troubled kids and make a difference to them. (Of course there are many instances--most--when he can't actually see the difference he is making and has to take it on faith. His job contains moments of almost unbearable poignancy. Yesterday, for example, a girl who is in Juvenile Hall on a murder conviction, finally graduated from high school--a victory in a bell jar. He took pictures of the cap and gown.)

It's almost noon today and I don't have my bra or my shoes on yet. New College is in so much financial trouble with low enrollments and other problems, that my Memoir class has been cancelled for this semester. The wolf is not at the door--I have plenty of financial back-up--but still, I sometimes question the wisdom of this free-lance lifestyle. Something wonderful happens--I win a contest, or a piece gets accepted, or the play gets produced somewhere--and it's joy in the morning, and a big fat check in the mail. That lasts for a few days, or weeks. Then it's back to vigilling at the computer, no bra, hair a mess, coffee getting cold at my elbow, wondering where I can send this stuff I keep banging out.

C and I had a wonderful discussion about Beethoven last night, after the movie. How he changed the landscape of classical music at the time, how he was a bridge to the Romantic period, how his personal failings and his deafness both fed his music and blighted his life. Some of his works, like The Grosee Fugue, were not understood in their own time. An artist's job is just to keep going. Some essence of our wonderful conversation found its way into the essay-writing work of this morning. That is the supreme privilege of this very privileged life.

At the same time, I don't think it would be a bad idea--after the New Year, and the play production in January-- for me to start looking into other sources of work. These are not the most mental-health-inducing conditions for me to be in my room half the day, dicking around inside my own mind. Today, I would have dearly loved to have given that opportunity to C, who needs the time to play piano, compose, paint, pet his cat, and keep nesting.

Finding balance, that's the illusive and elusive quest. While I've got this time I'm trying to make the best use of it that I can, not always succeeding. I know another time will roll around again, when I'll be frantic and pressed with outer demands--that always happens. Dancing between inner and outer worlds, now the weight is on one foot, now the other...I know this is the time of year in which to go inward. I'm both embracing and resisting the descent.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The recycling trucks are loud outside my window, and the sun has burned off the fog. Yesterday it rained a little, much-needed. Ruben, my Mexican next-door neighbor, weeded and turned over the earth on my weed-patch, I mean garden, out back, where the kale is flourishing. Then he wouldn't take any money for it, because we'd given him a chair from Ikea, and because he said it only took him twenty minutes. It would have taken me half the day and I wouldn't have done such a good job either.

C has been working intensively with several kids who were never read to as children. He tutors them, encourages them, bribes them with burritos, does phonics and math with them, and all the required curriculum, and then he reads to them. Reading aloud, just the simple pleasure of it, which my siblings and I got every night as children, which my nephews and nieces are getting now, getting initiated early into the seduction of stories. What would my life be like now if I hadn't been read to as a child? Unimaginable.

Can you give that to a fifteen year old kid who never got it when he was six--that sense of being safe and warm and enthralled by a story? That's what C is doing--tirelessly, even visiting some of the kids after work hours to help them do their homework and stay off probation--I shouldn't say tirelessly, because he does get tired, but he does it. (Yes, I am bragging.)

We had a great impromptu first night of Chanukah last night. Beth called me as she was getting off work, and came over bearing matzoh meal and apple sauce; I had potatoes, onions, a couple of eggs, a food processor, oil, salt and wine. All you need, really, to make it through the darkest part of the winter.

C joined us, and our housemates David and Libby and Masankho; we ate latkes, lit the candles and sang. First time all five of us housemates were even in the same room together, in the warm cozy clean kitchen that smelled of fried potatoes and onions.

Beth said the new version of Hot Tub is much improved; Ruth, whom I also emailed it to the other day thinks I made it worse since the earlier draft. (Ninety percent of the time Ruth prefers my earlier drafts. I have failed to calculate what percent of the time she is right.) Rebecca loves this draft, but I don't think she saw the earlier one. I am still waiting to hear from my playwright/dramaturg friends, Stuart and Suzanne, both of whom were kind of lukewarm on the earlier draft ("well-written but I didn't like either of the characters," would be a good summation. Plus Suzanne had some structural issues which I tried to address in this rewrite.)

Revision by committee is not the easiest way to go. I wish I trusted my own voice more. I'm the same way in singing, always needing--or thinking I need--someone else, someone expert and outside myself--to tell me if I'm on pitch or not.

Meanwhile, I'm trying to juggle dates and plane tickets and logistics to go to Detroit for the opening of Kaddish. They are having a "friend-raiser" at which I'm supposed to make an appearance, unfortunatally on the same day I'm scheduled to teach one of the Memoir classes at New College. If I can get my father and stepmother to switch the weekend they are coming, then I can avoid flying back and forth from Detroit three times. I'll only do it twice, which, in January, is plenty. But I haven't even confirmed that I can get a sub for that class yet.

At least now I have some peace of mind that maybe Hot Tub is nearing completion and I can turn my mind back to the musical and the other projects.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Moments of intense, absolute, magical sweetness over the weekend; playing, wrestling, smooching, exploring, risking a little, playing harder, discovering how big and how fertile is this field of play between us.

Now: Monday. I have finished a rewrite of My Hot Tub With Andrea, that I think is really strong. Much stronger than before. I also think a change in title is in order. My Hot Tub with Andrea is obsolete--I've changed her name to Olivia, for one thing, and no longer need to lean on the title of that old movie, My Dinner with Andre.

I'm thinking of Olivia and Jack in the Hot Tub, A Hard Day's Night, Civil Liberties, or Uncivil Liberties. So far I'm kind of leaning towards Civil Liberties, which I realize is the most boring title of all, but it references the most important theme of the play. Incidentally, Tennessee Williams' Street Car Named Desire had at one point the title Blanche's Chair on the Moon. I love the way he used poetic images for his titles.

I'm also considering Love, Shmove, (a line from the play, but I think it sounds too much like Borscht belt comedy, which is false advertizing, or Love Is A Hot Wet Swamp, except that sounds kind of like Charles Bukowski's Love is a Dog From Hell.

Or what about Forgiven (a line from the play; also a play on words for that Clint Eastwood movie, Unforgiven, which was a classic Western--maybe my play is a classic Eastern--a couple of people just sitting around talking, talking, talking all night...

I'm also thinking Pandora's Box, which has that sexual overtone that tells you something about the themes. What about Civil Liberties, or Pandora's Box, which is very Tony Kushner-esque--when you can't choose one, just go with both, and make it sound old-fashioned and classy.

Head shots today for Wing It! Got to make myself look pretty.