Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Carla says all we get is moments, and she’s right. So here are some of mine from 2008:

Listening to C play piano downstairs as he is doing now, while I type this in bed. The gentle sound drifts up. He’s improvising, noodling, it sounds a little classical, and then jazzy, and then like a lullabye…

Last Sunday, with my Little Sister in Redwood Park. She had asked me to “take her to the woods!” so I brought her up there. “Is this the woods?” she asked. She was curious, alert, interested, calm. Nature is big enough to hold her in a way that man-made environments can’t. We greeted and petted every dog we saw, looked at horse shoe prints, discovered moss, peered down gopher holes, collected pine cones. She was a dream, and I had so much fun with her. And it lasted for two and a half hours. She hugged me when we parted. A small turning point.

The wonderful Japanese restaurant lunch in Massachusetts in October, celebrating Dad’s and my birthdays. Eli flopping his all-of-a-sudden lanky little body on me, treating me like a bean bag chair. Noah slung his elbow over my shoulder just because he can—he’s shot up to almost my height and the next time I see him he will have overtaken me. Afterwards, standing in the sunlight with my dad and siblings and nephews, watching C play soccer with the boys. Pretending to be a shark for my nieces so they could enjoy screaming and running away.

White water rafting with C in Oregon, feeling the thrill of adrenaline as we rushed down the river, wondering if we’d keep our seats or get dumped overboard, getting drenched to the skin and at the very end slipping over the edge in our life jackets and paddling gently to shore.

The first bed and breakfast we stayed in in Oregon, a lovingly reconstructed old farmhouse—each detail was perfect. Seeing Othello in the big theatre, having read it aloud together and watched the movie. C whispering to me that he never would have enjoyed it that much if we hadn’t done that and how much he appreciated the new learning. Feeling like I could actually teach him something when he’d been instructing me all summer in carpentry and painting and sanding and spackling.

My fiftieth birthday party, I felt giggly and pretty and danced and read poetry and when I looked around everyone was playing music and making connections, and talking and eating and having fun.

Watching Arabian Nights a few nights ago at the Berkeley Rep. Gorgeous, rich theatre—I wanted to eat that production, I wanted to smear it all over my body like honey and sesame paste, it was like halvah, so rich, so sweet, so good.

Being at Harbin with Carla last July, laughing and crying on the bed, watching her enjoy water-walking in the big warm pool, slipping out of our room to go swimming in the early mornings, naked, with the pool all to myself.

In fact, swimming in general, a reliable way to reach ecstasy, especially when I have a lane to myself. There were some good swims in 2008. I hope for even more in 2009.

Reading Doubt and realizing I was in the presence of a work of genius. Reading Women of Manhattan and feeling my eyes widen in recognition: this writer gets it.

C proposing to me at the Berkeley Marina, my astonishment and our laughter and the deep gladness of knowing we both want each other that much. Being moved once again by how he’s willing to lay it on the line. Calling my father to tell him the news that evening; he was having dinner with my godparents, his cell phone was on because he was awaiting word from the hospital where my stepbrother Stoph and his wife Moire were having their first baby. Dad was so happy he said, “I can’t even begin to describe all the feelings that are rushing through me right now.”

Our sweet Passover dinner with old friends Lauren and Daniel and their two-year-old Mirabai. It was Mirabai’s first Seder and she was toddling around, very interested in everything and even wanted to come sit on my chair with me for a while which felt like a great blessing. Telling her about Elijah and opening the door. Passing on the tradition.

Dad’s visit—waking early in the morning and walking up 38th Ave to try to catch the radiance of his early morning self.

Watching Obama get elected. Screaming, “He got Ohio! He got Ohio!”—was it Ohio this time? The state he needed to put him over the top. Feeling so overwhelmed at what was happening I couldn’t take it all in. C beside me on the couch breaking into tears, friends drinking champagne together and feeling that the world had changed.

So many moments of sitting in audiences watching Carla perform, but the one that stands out to me is a gig at Anna’s. I was there with Gerry and she sang a song she had written about being scared in the middle of the night and I dissolved.

Climbing Mt. Grace in Massachusetts on a beautiful warm October day and seeing the undulant colored hills all around—a sea of hills, all the way to forever.

Having my play produced in Detroit and my Dad and stepmother and Masankho and C all came. Masankho just made it at the last moment. Seeing my dad crying at the end--he was overcome with emotion.

Writing Love Shack and realizing I’ve already got 13 poems towards my next book.

Making love in various rooms of the house and feeling like teenagers. First time I’ve lived without roommates in ten years. All our teasing, play-fights, and even some of our real fights. Holding ground—new and scary. Working it out. Tears and deeper understanding. Long walks in the woods.

Being scared to take the Impact class and taking it, and realizing the part of me that was hungering to fight and be powerful. Awakening the sleeping warrior inside.

Singing a duet with Catherine Rose at my birthday party and hearing her say she always thought I had a nice voice.

Making chicken mole for the first time and having it turn out well, making delicious gazpacho stuffed with fragrant herbs, making matzah brei for C this morning...

Sitting with a student at the Impact class where I was an assistant teacher. She was crying about a rape that happened years ago. Knowing exactly what to do—nothing—and doing it lovingly. Feeling her release her trauma, and knowing we were in the exactly right place doing just what needed to be done.

Going to The Albatross, a bar, with C and G and Carla, and playing that game about who would you like to have dinner with, living or dead. Realizing the people I most wanted to be with were right there at the table with me. Teasing Carla about how she needed to be carried out by two guys, even though of course it wasn’t because of the one beer she drank. Seeing how gentle and courtly G is with her.

Watching the Olympics, the tremendous spectacle of the opening ceremonies, even if it was politically incorrect and fake, it was still an amazing show. Watching the whole thing sitting on the couch between G and C, eating salt and vinegar potato chips.

Taking my Little Sister and her real big sister into the city to see Elizabeth’s show. Playing I Spy with them in the car going over, with C—just like a family.

Watching The Wire with C, occasionally pausing the DVD to deconstruct the action or figure out what the characters were saying. Feeling like it is a joint effort to appreciate this complex well-written show. Seeing how much of the street life it shows is similar to the lives of C’s students at Juvenile Hall, and how it affirms something to have that devastating reality reflected back.

Clothing swap with Marci and girlfriends, not so much the loot I came home with, just the camaraderie of women and bodies and clothes—humor, support, and generosity.

Singing with Beth and Hadass at E’s birthday, standing in the center of the circle, singing as an act of prayer, leaning in to listen closely and feeling bound by ropes of song and love.

And what were your moments of 2008, o readers, anonymous or named?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It was cold and beautiful on Alameda Beach the day after Christmas, that hushed, in-between time of year when everyone seems to be pausing to take a breath and a look around. Sunset was spreading pink and blue and purple and orange to the west. Darker clouds scudding, beach grass blowing, the twinkling lights of San Francisco in the distance. Bundled-up people in ones and twos and threes congregated by the bird sanctuary and embraced each other through scarves and puffy coats. You could see a flash of Carla's bright hair and brighter smile in the wheelchair as she waited with her father and her son for everyone to arrive. Amazingly, she didn't seem cold at all.

One of the things that has happened in this last year since her diagnosis has been the birth of a community. It is made up of the smaller communities that already existed around her before; her moms' group, her artist friends; her College of Marin people; her family. Now we've all overlapped and become friends with each other.

There was a lot of hugging and kissing, and then Carla moved to a regular chair, and four strong men carried her, Jewish-wedding style, down onto the sand where she could sit and watch the water. We gathered in a shivering circle around her, each person holding a votive candle, while Carla told us we had been the rays of light in the darkness for her over the last year, and the setting sun shot its last rays of gold over the glistening sand and tide pools and driftwood.

Carla's beloved brother Jason was with us long-distance via cell phone, and her dad spoke and then Maclen gave the most eloquent tribute any son has ever given his mother. Carla has reprinted it on her blog at if anyone wants to read it. I don't know how he got this breadth of vision and wisdom so young, except that he's had to develop it, but thank God he has.

Then we each took a smooth river rock from a bag and went down to water's edge where Carla's father Jack demonstrated the proper skipping technique. It was the best combination of emotional and playful, in a gorgeous natural setting and with the diverse crowd that's closest to Carla (well, there are other people close to Carla's heart who couldn't be there in flesh but were certainly present in spirit) that could be. How odd and fitting and heartbreaking and crazy that we were "celebrating" this year of her diagnosis, a time when we've all been stretched and pummelled by fate. How good to look out at the big ocean and lift up our eyes to the gorgeous ever-changing panoply of the sky.

And then we went out to eat Chinese food around a big steaming table.

This is how it's been all year--from the sublime to the ordinary. Lisa said to me, "This has been the best and the worst year of my life." The best because she married her beloved and their relationship deepens and sweetens daily, and the worst because of Carla's health. The same is true for me--I got engaged to the best, most mischievous, fiercely loving, creative, honest man I ever met, my play got produced, I became a woman warrior through IMPACT and so many other blessings, on and on and on--and I'm losing the friend in my life who always gets it, (who always gets me,) who can hold tragedy in one hand and comedy in the other and not flinch, who is hilarious, compassionate, clear-eyed, generous, and always a few steps ahead.

She gave me my birthday presents--a T-shirt which reads DESTRUCTOGRRL and another one which states "MY spirit animal is a dust bunny." Perfect.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I just finished reading Gavin deBecker’s wonderful book The Gift of Fear and I am wiped out. Literally. The book hit me like a train. It’s beautifully written, and it’s about intuition, violence, compassion, crime, mental illness, child abuse, and awareness. DeBecker’s personal story is inspiring: he grew up with a crazy violent mother, and a series of bad stepfathers, and emerged able to use his power and his pain for good not evil. You can see the hurt child in his eyes on the back jacket photo, but he’s managed to integrate all the hell he went through into a brilliant career.

I wanted to write him a letter. It would read something like “Mr. deBecker, can I work for you? I’m very intuitive and creative. Alright, I don’t know a thing about law enforcement, have only touched a real gun twice in my life, am so unobservant of my environment that my partner cleans the house and then waits around for me to notice something is different, but oh, I want to track down bad guys just like you.”

I told a friend I wanted to be a forensic psychologist once and she laughed so hard she dropped the phone. When she came back on she gently reminded me of how I had had to leave the room when she started watching CSI on TV—it was the autopsy scene that got me. Anyway I am signing up for a class on abnormal psychology. DeBecker says that 100% of serial murderers were abused as children, no big surprise there—and he recommended both the IMPACT program and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, both of which I’m involved in, so it all seems synchronistic.

What fascinated me most about deBecker’s book was the section on being able to predict people’s behavior. In fact, he says, most acts of domestic violence as well as celebrity stalking and assassination attempts are preceded by lots of warning signals on the part of the assailant. People say these things come out of the blue, but that’s not really true. Everyone has intuition much of which we ignore or override because of our social conditioning.

Reading between the lines, I imagine many other types of behavior could be predicted as well. I think back to the men I dated and was blind-sided by before C. Could I have foreseen infidelity? What blinded me to the obvious fact that they were either unready for the depth of relationship I wanted or not that into me?

I saw what I wanted to see, and selectively ignored evidence to the contrary. I assumed other people were operating under the same set of rules I was. Common mistakes. But I hope I can learn from them and not repeat them. For every time I’ve been taken advantage of, I hope I can put that experience to good use.

Saturday night we went to a Jewish music concert, produced by my friend Kaila Flexer. It was amazing. Kaila’s violin just soared, sensitive, subtle, passionate, and moody. I love the new stuff she’s doing with her musical partner. It’s really indescribable—heavily influenced by all the Balkan music she’s been studying, yet edgy and intimate. To have a listen or get their latest CD, go to Kaila’s web site at

Then Kitka performed—they did a bunch of songs in Yiddish, and some in Ladino with their trademark drones and gorgeous close harmonies. I’ve been listening to Kitka for decades and they only get better and more beautiful.

The last group was klezmer, with a clarinet player who made me want to learn clarinet, and an accordionist who looked like Gilda Radner and could recite reams of translated Yiddish song lyrics with ease. Carla was doing sound cues for the whole thing, from her wheelchair. Zellerbach auditorium seats about a thousand people and it was almost sold out.

I was kvelling about how Kaila had put the whole thing together, and how talented she is, she and my beautiful talented friend Catherine Rose who is one of the founding members of Kitka and still singing with them, and how much determination it took Carla was to be able to do the cues She was exhausted, after having been there almost all day. She’s amazing in her work ethic and her dedication and I can’t decide if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. It may be both.

I saw my Little Sister on Sunday and helped her buy gifts for her granny and her sister, took her out to lunch, took her back to the house and made hot chocolate and tried to interest her in playing. The one thing she wanted to do was mess with my make-up, so I let her—she wrote Love in crooked letters on each of my cheeks, used a prodigious amount of every color eye shadow I have, and just went to town on me. By the end I looked like the Joker. Then I was in the bathroom trying to wash my face and she kept trying to take more make-up even after I had declared the game over.

“No means no!” I barked in my mother’s voice.

“I was just playin’ with you,” she insisted.

That’s her way, this “just playin’” which can also be called pushing limits until I push back hard—and then continuing to test. I think it’s her ADHD that makes time with her exhausting—she veers around like a pinball in a machine, looking for pleasure and satisfaction but unable to alight on anything for more than a few moments. We did have some good moments in the store, after she had picked out her gifts and when she got a store clerk to wrap them in the wrapping paper she chose, and with the color ribbon she wanted—black for her sister “because she’s Goth,” she explained to the amused clerk.

And the make-up thing was fun until it got out of hand, and making hot chocolate was fun until she dumped half the cinnamon bottle into her cup, and, and…

I wonder about deBecker’s predictions, whether she’ll make it or not, whether she’ll end up on drugs or in jail, or lead a good life. They say having a positive interaction with an adult helps—and she has lots of loving adults around her, although she doesn’t have parents—but she seems attracted to, identified with the values of the street. When she gets in my car she always turns the radio immediately to a hip hop station, and turns the volume up to earsplitting levels until I turn it back down so we can talk.

As I drove her to the restaurant, she said, a propos of nothing, “I live in the ghetto. People be shoot, be rob, they be kill.”

“Yes,” I said.

“I was born in the ghetto,” she said. Then she said, “I am the ghetto.” I don’t know where she got that, if it’s a line in a song or what, but I reacted. “You are not the ghetto,” I said. “You are a beautiful little girl! You are not where you came from.”

She didn’t say anything in response. I’m not sure if my outburst was the right thing or not. Maybe I should have just asked more reflective questions…

C is on vacation and it’s lovely. He’s working on the in-law, and it’s still freezing in the house—I’ve been wearing the same pair of long underwear for a week straight--but we have time for reading, studying, writing, listening to music, talking about our honeymoon—even grocery shopping together is fun. He’s downstairs now, going over some math problems while I stay snuggled under the electric blanket, trying to finish the play. I wanted to be done by Jan 1 and I don’t know whether I’ll make it or not.

Friday, December 19, 2008

I posted the letter below on If you agree with the sentiments expressed in it, please consider also writing a letter reminding President-elect Obama of his promise to be a President to all Americans, including the LGBT community. The more of us speak up, the better. He won't be able to read every letter, but somewhere someone in his Administration will be keeping count. It would be good if they received a lot of thoughtful mail about this.

December 20, 2008

Dear President-elect Obama,

On your election eve we wept with joy as John McCain conceded and you accepted the presidency. We donated money to your campaign; close friends of ours worked for you; we rose at dawn to be able to vote for you when the polls opened, and we felt as proud of you when you won as if you were a member of our own family.

In fact we do sort of feel as if you are a member of our own family, even though we have never met you personally. Like you and your wife, we appreciate good books, we place a high premium on education (we are both teachers,) and we value equality and diversity. We love the children in our lives fiercely, and we rejoice to see a First Family where the children are being raised with wonderful values and appear so happy and well-adjusted.

Our joy in your victory though was tempered with pain the next morning when we found that Proposition 8, a hateful anti-gay campaign that would deny the dignity of marriage to our gay and lesbian friends, had passed, largely due to out-of-state influence and money. Your choice for a pastor to deliver the invocation at your inaugural, Rick Warren, was one of the people who campaigned heavily for Proposition 8 and was instrumental in its passage. We were as shocked and dismayed to learn you chose him to speak as we would be if an intimate member of our own circle made a racist or homophobic remark.

Do you have gay friends? That is the question that haunts us most deeply. We read in the newspaper about the tight-knit circle of trusted friends and family that have supported you every step of the way on your journey to the White House. This is something else we share—a deep commitment to our friends. Clearly both you and Mrs. Obama have a gift for reaching across all kinds of divides and reaching people human to human—that is one of your best attributes.

But is your warmth and empathy reserved only for heterosexuals, or are you able to also put yourself in the shoes of a gay man or woman who loves their partner as deeply as you love your wife, and who yearns to see that love legally protected and dignified just as your own marriage is?

This question is especially poignant to the two of us as we are planning our own wedding in six months. We are a heterosexual couple so there is no obstacle beyond agreeing upon what kind of cake to serve and refining our vows with the help of our rabbi. Our joy in our own wedding will be dampened though, by the sad thought that our gay friends and relatives are unfairly denied this privilege we enjoy.

Many of these friends have been in their own partnerships longer than we have been in ours, and have been valuable examples to us when we struggle with some of the speed bumps of commitment. Some of them are raising children together, or supporting each other as they care for elderly parents. Some of our gay friends are social workers, some are teachers. There are a few ministers and a couple of rabbis in the group, and also some writers, health professionals, lawyers, therapists, computer programmers, and artists. There's a small business owner (favorite small independent local bookstore,) and a number of people who work at non-profits. All of them want the simple right to have their partnerships treated with the same respect and legal protections as anyone else.

Rather than protecting heterosexual marriage, people like Rick Warren who campaign against gay marriage actually taint the institution for everyone. Is marriage a commitment based on love, loyalty, and commitment? Or is it some kind of biological game of pin the tail on the donkey—assuming the tail is one gender and the donkey another?

We also have to wonder: are you sacrificing the gay community and the rights of LGBT people in order to pacify the Religious Right? Will your own Christian faith blind you to the feelings of the many non-Christian Americans—the Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, pagans, atheists, agnostics, Unitarians, and others who have supported you?

We respect the sincerity of your religious beliefs, but we fear that the fragile separation of church and state, which was so blatantly abused by the Bush Administration, may be in jeopardy again under your leadership. It would be a stain on the otherwise shining beacon of your presidency. Please say it isn’t so.

Reassure us that you have the rights of gay Americans (and non-Christian Americans) in your heart as you prepare to take the Inaugural oath in January.

* Include an openly gay person in your inaugural ceremonies to reinforce the message of inclusiveness that your campaign was based upon.

*Get to know some gay people personally and allow yourself the pleasure of a meaningful encounter with their families.

*Share this letter with Pastor Warren, and let him know the pain that Proposition 8 has caused among gay people and their allies in California. Request or demand that he aplogize to the LBGT community for hurtful, divisive, ignorant and inaccurate statements he has made.

We will take a day off of work in order to watch you on January 20th as you swear to protect and uphold the Constitution of the United States. It will be a moment to remember forever. Our hearts will be full of pride in you, and concern for your safety and integrity. Please live up to the vision of inclusiveness that you promoted during your campaign.

With love and respect,

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

"Mmm, the sun's out--hey, I feel WARM! Maybe it's warm out!" I said to C, snuggled under five layers of down coverlets. He kissed me with icy lips and set a steaming mug of coffee down beside me.

"Your information is incomplete."

After he had gone I noticed a light white mist in front of my face. It was my breath. Yes, I could see my breath in my bedroom. That can't be good.

Yesterday the house was so cold (49 degrees) that I bundled up and went to a Bikram yoga class where you can take unlimited classes for ten days for ten dollars. It was so worth it. For the first time since this cold snap started I was warm, I was hot, the sweat was streaming down my body.

Bikram is basically yoga in a sauna. They heat the studio to ninety degrees and everyone is there in tiny shorts and teeny tiny tank tops which become soaking wet as class progresses. The instructor is trained to bark out very non-yogic things like, "Push! Push! Go beyond your limits!" but I ignored her and did what felt right to me.

I had a whole narrative going on in my head about how I'm fifty, I'm stiff, I have short stubby peasant legs and a long body and I am not shaped like an Indian yogi, etc. etc. Then I happened to glance around the room and noticed a beautiful young woman at the far side of the studio, doing the poses perfectly. She had no legs. I repeat: she had no legs.

I had chatted with her in the dressing room, but only looked at her face. She had prostheses, which she took off once the class started. She was doing the poses on her thigh stumps. When I talked to her after class, I noticed that she also had no fingers, just palms of her hands, and fused-together stumpy things where the fingers would be.

Okay, so then I pushed myself a little harder.

We watched Letters from Iwo Jima last night with three comforters wrapped around us on the couch. In the movie you know all the Japanese soldiers are doomed from the start so it's heartbreaking to watch--it's not a question of if they will die, but when. there is one who truly wants to live and at the end of the movie he is still alive, but barely, a wounded prisoner of war. The whole "war is hell" thing is brought home to you over and over, until you can't escape it.

I am wrestlingthis morning with not working. Actually, I have twelve schools I need to contact/recontact for this Poetry Out Loud thing, so that will be work for January. And I just got a check from The Writing Salon, and expect a check from MORE and another check from The Sun when the Dede piece comes out there. My bank account is healthy.

It's more that C goes off every days to the wars and I stay home and have freedom, and that's hard to reconcile. I sometimes envy him the cameraderie and sense of purpose his work situation can provide and I know he envies me my freedom to devote myself to writing and creating. And in these uneasy economic times we both worry about the future. I'd like to embrace it with open arms, whatever changes may come, but when I'm numb with cold my arms don't open so easily. I just talked with my sister on the phone who sensibly suggested that I check with PG&E to see if they have any programs where you can get a subsidy to insulate your home. Sounds good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

It's that time of year again--I'm typing this wearing long underwear, sweatpants, two shirts, a sweater, a cozy bathrobe, fuzzy slippers and fingerless gloves. The approximate temp in the house is a toasty 52 degrees. If I put on the space heater and try to use the printer at the same time, I blow a fuse. It's the time of the bear, of hibernation, the electric blanket, four afghans, and all that.

I read a piece in The Sunday Times about the Obamas' best friends. They have been part of the same close-knit group of ambitious mostly black young professionals with kids since college. I have been thinking how much I don't really like self-help books (despite the fact that I have two at my bedside right now, The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker, about trusting your gut when it comes to staying out of danger, and The Gift of Compulsions, by Mary O'Malley, which I'm hoping will help me break my complusive web sudoku habit. She advocates cultivating comapssion and curiosity about one's compusions, by the way. Wow, that's a lot of C's.)

I have several friends who have done diligent inner work and come out with some wisdom and want to write about it--How to Live Better, basically. I support their ambitions, but hope I never ever ever succumb to that impulse. For one thing, if you've been blessed with a visit from the creative angel, I think it's more fun to make art. But the main reason is I believe that living better, being better, having a better, healthier etc life, has something to do with your inner work and everything to do with the company you keep.

I guess that's un-American. It's not pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps, meditate yourself into Nirvana, get up at 5 and swim laps till yoiur body is as hard as iron, that's for sure. I don't believe that life improvement is a do-it-yourself job, an inside job, as everyone else says. I think it's all about community. The article about the Obamas and their friendships says that to me. The Obamas would not be where they are today were it not for their family ties, and this very high-powered, focused and determined group of friends who took time off work, and offered real companionship and solid support along the way. For years.

I think that's how things happen. I think that's how greatness is achieved. Not by everyone writing and buying these self-help books and tapes and DVDs and working so hard to improve themselves, but by being there for each other. That's not very lucrative. You can't sell a million copies of "Create Community" the way you can "Learn to Pull Your Own Strings," but it is what I believe.

Sunday Carla and I went into the city to see Natta and Meyra perform devotional dances at the Buddhist temple in the Mission. It was gray, cold, and rainy, and Carla's new wheelchair is stiffer and more difficult to handle than the old one. And it doesn't like rain. Still, it was worth all the effort to see those beautiful young women, so pure in their devotion and their art, dancing their hearts out with so little in the way of material resources to back them up, but only the fire of their love.

After the performance, Carla wept and wept. She has the gift of extreme vulnerability now; the smallest things touch her heart so deeply. Afterwards we ate at Cafe Gratitude and joked about dragging the boys there--C and Gerry. I can just imagine them rolling their eyes and snorting as the server comes up and enthusiastically affirms to them, "You are abundance! You are beautiful! You are delicious!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

I sent out the following letter today...thought I'd reprint it here in case someone reading this blog knows someone who would be interested.

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you because you either are a good man, or know some good men, or both. Impact Bay Area, a wonderful self-defense training course for women, needs more suited instructors. (They also just certified their first female "suit," so if you are a strong woman, you might want to consider that.) I thought I’d write up a little more description of the job in hopes that you would forward this along to whomever you think might be good for the job.

Impact was started by some male martial artists after a female colleague, a black belt in karate, was attacked and raped outside their dojo. Despite her skills, she did not know how to deal with a street fight, and they decided to create a program that would enable women to deal with real-life assailants who were not playing by the rules. (At the time the program was called BAMM--Bay Area Model Mugging.)

They did a lot of research with police, crime victims, and perpetrators to determine the most common ways women are usually attacked, on the street and in their homes. They interviewed survivors and asked “What did you do to get out of this situation?” They also spent a lot of time developing the padded suit that the “mugger” wears, to ensure safety for the instructor wearing it and the student striking it. Each suit costs about $1,500.00 dollars and has been carefully engineered so that the women can use full-impact strikes, and the instructor can remain safe.

To become a “suit” requires some training, even if you already have a martial arts background. That is because the education offered by Impact is emotional as well as physical. The model muggings are scary for the women students and that is by design. Their aim is to teach the skills while the student is in an adrenalized state, so that in the event of a real assault, the body memory and muscle memory will come flooding back.

Some of the women who take classes at Impact have already experienced some degree of assault, ranging from verbal harassment to full-on rape. There are also survivors of childhood sexual abuse who show up in class. Often, they are triggered by the just the sight of the mugger in his full suit. Sometimes women students have flashbacks while they are fighting. The female whistle instructor and the two assistants are there to help the women through those emotional speed bumps.

Impact also helps women learn to set verbal boundaries, and then to recognize when those boundaries are being ignored or crossed. The “suit” is also called upon to be an improviser, playing a variety of obnoxious characters, some of them dangerous, others simply misguided. Learning to create characters and enter into scenarios is part of the work. Another part is having the maturity to have good psychic and emotional boundaries, to make a separation between the bad guy you play when the helmet is on and the good guy instructor that you really are..

A suited instructor should also have some notion of bio-mechanics, be comfortable in his body, be reasonably fit, and perhaps have some kind of background in a physical discipline, whether dance or yoga or martial arts or sports. (They do not need to be a professional in any of these disciplines, and they don’t have to be Superman.)

The Basics class for women takes 25 hours. When I took it, the class was spread over four consecutive Sunday afternoons, six hours each time. That felt intense. Last weekend, I volunteer-assisted at a class where they taught the whole thing in one weekend, a long Friday afternoon and all-day Saturday and Sunday. That was incredibly intense! By the end everyone was exhausted, but the transformations of the women in the class in just three days were astounding. One woman, a survivor of rape said, “I’ve been a victim all my life. Now, for the first time, I see what it might be like to live as a fighter.”

The job of being a male suited instructor at Impact is a paid one, not volunteer. I don’t know how much the pay is. I believe the training is free, but I am not 100% sure of that. I have also heard that there is a self-defense class for men who want to learn how to protect themselves from muggers on the street—one of the male instructors in my Basics class had come into the work that way.

The shortest time anyone has completed all the training and become certified to become a suited instructor is four months. It is not a full-time gig. The training takes place in such a way that you keep your day job. It is exhausting, sweaty, satisfying work. Many of the men enter into it because a close friend or relative has been assaulted and they felt helpless at the time. This is their way of preventing future assaults on other women. It is both a vocation and a labor of love.

The web site is They are in need of more suited instructors.

Thanks for passing this on,


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I spent all last weekend with an incredible group of women who were taking the Basics course from Impact Bay Area. It was my first time assisting an adult class. There were several women in the class who had survived rape, and I was stunned by their courage to confront their fears so directly.

The work for me and the other assistant was to keep paying attention, keep paying attention, for twenty-five hours over the course of three days. Sixteen women, four instructors, and us. I feel like their faces and stories are burned into my brain, stories I can't repeat here because of confidentiality agreements but which I can never forget.

As always, there was diversity in the class. The youngest woman was a teenager, the oldest was in her sixties. Some women were in excellent physical condition, others were working with injuries, weight issues, and health problems. Some were self-described "bad-ass" types who had had a lot of dating and street experiences with men and took responsibility for their own weak boundaries which had sometimes led them into bad situations. Others had led relatively sheltered lives, married at a young age, not much experience of the outside world--and they were shocked at the language the muggers used, and the situations the other women described.

It's amazing how much work it is just to pay attention.

The whistle instructor's work is more physical. She's on the mat the whole time, demonstrating, coaching, whistling, teaching, correcting, leading. We assistants anchor the line, one on each end. We notice who has jammed her finger or torqued her knee and we run to the freezer for ice packs.

We notice who is crying and we get tissues and sometimes follow the student out of the room and comfort them. We get cups of water for people. We make the name tags, help people tape up their weak ankles, cheer them on when they are fighting. We turn the video camera on and off (that was my most challenging thing. I can handle heavy emotions any day, just don't give me a job where you have to push buttons.) We empty the trash and clean up the space.

It was a kind of review for me, to watch the class without having to be in it. I got to learn or relearn some of the things that I missed the first time because I was so focussed on trying to get my kicks and strikes right. I paid special attention during the boundary setting part. Like many women, I don't have strong boundaries (this is where the Oscar/Felix analogy falls apart in my relationship with C as well. Oscar doesn't give a shit what Felix thinks or feels. I do care how my behavior affects other people, and I feel terrible when my insensitivity hurts someone.)

I can act like I have good boundaries, and at those times I channel my mother and the way she used to talk to vacuum cleaner salesman. "And don't call me honey!" I remember her saying, as she hung up the phone. I can access her voice within me, clarion, confident, and it comes in handy when I'm trying to keep a rowdy class in order, or ward off a hustler who approaches me on the street. But I don't think it's really me. It's hard to set my boundaries from my own core, and hardest of all to do it from a place of self-love.

In many ways I think what C and I have been doing in our relationship lately has been a dance of the boundaries. Sometimes he sets his boundaries with me. Sometimes I set mine with him. Sometimes we transgress each other's boundaries and then there are hurt feelings. Maybe we are also testing each other's boundaries. "You say it's here, but can you move it at all? is there any wiggle room?" I don't know if there is a way to do this phase of a relationship without stepping on some toes sometimes. Because it involves both of us changing, perhaps opening up a boundary we had previously thought was inviolate, perhaps refining our definition of what our boundaries mean to us.

The fear, of course, is that if we really say what our boundaries are, the other person will abandon us. But we've both already done the thing where we don't say anything, and then resentment builds like poison, and the relationship implodes under the weight of unspoken violations. So neither of us want to do that anymore.

I remember when we were first dating, how impressed I was with C's courage. I could tell he was not a forward person at all, and yet he took the risks to reach out to me, to tell me the truth, to make himself vulnerable. So many times in my dating experience, the men who never pushed my boundaries were the ones who weren't that into me in the first place. There's this delicate balancing place when you're with someone who actually loves you, wants you, and you're asking them to also respect you, to put that third leg into place. And then you have to do that for them. respect them after you have become each other's family, the place where, historically, the most disrespect happens.

Hopefully, if we do this thing right, we'll be letting the other person in on deeper and deeper levels. But every step of the way feels fraught sometimes.

Since my boundaries were trampled when I was a child and his too, when the other person starts leaning over the line and testing the boundary, it hurts, it's scary, it feels like the childhood violation might happen again.

During the sweet times in between the testing moments, we have comfort and pleasure, cuddled up with good food and a good movie. Each evening after class I came home to to C, who made me salad and a glass of wine. We sat together and watched The Wire, a nice relaxing show about drug wars in Baltimore.

Still, on Monday morning I woke up feeling like I'd been run over by a truck. I was so exhausted and my shoulders were hunched up around my ears and hard as rocks. I have been having deep, distrubing, colorful dreams with about 17 story lines going on at once, involving death, resurrection, police, murder, and a thousand other things.

We are counting down the days to C's Christmas break. Meanwhile, I am trying to find a way to write about woemn's self defense in an essay (I've already rewritten it multiple times but it's still not right. Doesn't convey the full power of the experience.)

And I'm revising the first act of the new play.

Friday, December 05, 2008

First of all, thank you Marian N. for sending us the copy of Lilith in which your essay appeared. It was great--and I devoured the whole magazine.

Next, I have received permission from my beloved to write about the Great Turkey Hotline Debacle, which I had discreetly edited out of last week's Thanksgiving post. Not that I lied. We did have a great, warm, musical, friend-filled Thanksgiving. It's just that it was preceded by the sturm und drang that comes from two people who have each developed their own style of doing things that has worked for them just fine lo these many years, and who now find themselves yoked to a person who does things completely differently.

To wit: holiday prep. I've been making turkeys for Thanksgiving for years now, big dinners that feed at least a dozen people, and everything has been fine. I pride myself on my ability to feed people. I can throw something together for any number of guests with hardly any warning and it will be tasty and plentiful. If C was in the habit of bringing home unexpected company for dinner he would appreciate this trait in me.

But C doesn't bring home guests with no warning. C makes plans in advance. And C sees dirt. I mean, he literally can perceive dust and dirt where I don't. In this, he is in the majority, and I am in the minority (especially for a female.) Usually, the man is the one who leaves the toilet seat up and his dirty socks on the floor. With us, it's the opposite. I am Oscar, he's Felix. Not that I leave the toilet seat up. But you get the idea. I just run my eye over the room, note that there are no dead bodies on the floor, no pools of blood, no piles of excrement, and that last week's New York Sunday Times has been put in the recycling. Great! I think, and turn back to the food.

So C is the one who vacuums, dusts and mops, and gets me to put away all my products and make-up so he can clean the bathroom. Okay, fine. I'm a hell of a lucky wo,man and many many women would love to have this problem, this man. I'm so sorry he's taken. And also that it's part of God's cosmic joke that most women would be all-too-grateful for a man who cleans and cares about details and many men might appreciate a woman who was relaxed and would gladly entertain their friends at a drop of a hat, but that's not how it works. I'm sure that that's not even how it's supposed to work.

Anyway, a clean house is not my beef. (And, turth to tell, my friends have complimented me on the newfound brightness and shininess of our house and I have been mpore than glaqd to accept those compliments although I always do give credit where credit is due.) My beef is that all this is done accompanied by teeth-gnashing anxiety about whether the turkey will turn out alright, whether everything will be done on time and simultaneously, etc.

This is where I know I'm in the wrong: I take C's anxiety as a personal affront. What, you don't trust me? You don't think I'm a good hostess? Because he was anxious that I hadn't checked the minutes of cooking time per pound ratio on the turkey--I think it's 20 minutes a pound and anyway it's always come out before, and anyway we can check it as it goes along--I put it in the oven early, on 425, a much higher setting than what I usually use. Result: the turkey was well-done--on the verge of being overdone--three hours early.

Then C had a new anxiety: what if the turkey meat breeds bacteria if it just sits around for three or four hours? So he called The Turkey Hotline (I did not even know such an organization existed,) to ask them what to do. The lady told him to put the cooked turkey in the fridge, which he did. I was convinced that this would ruin the flavor/texture etc of my turkey and started crying. Yes, I admit, I was crying over refrigerated turkey. (I was also having a bit of a hormonal meltdown, which I didn't realize at the time. One of the things about being 50 is that these things can no longer be clocked with the same predictability as in earlier years.)

I think I was also crying for Thanksgivings past, for making the dinner with a bunch of women roommates and friends in the kitchen, giggling and laughing and wrestling with the brine and the stuffing and not worrying, just enjoying the time together, the anticipation, the holiday build-up. I was missing the warmth and disorganiization of shtetl life, the way Bethie came over before my birthday party and helped me get ready and how fun that was, and how C said afterwards that we should have had everything ready by ourselves by the time the guests came.

I don't really think of my guests as "guests." I think of them as extended family. I was crying for the stupidest of reasonbs, because it wasn't fun, "This isn't fun!" I cried--all the hile I know only a child needs everything to be fun. But another, stubborn child part of me was thinking this could be fun, this should be fun, why isn't this fun? I was scared of being swallowed up in a grim sterile atmosphere of good housekeeping with gritted teeth. I was missing the presence of children underfoot, Marci coming by with a shopping bag full of bowls and spoons the way she did for one party when I ran out of cutlery and dishware. I wanted it to be okay to improvise, not a sign of not caring, not something that we had to fix.

This is a primal struggle between me and C; his very strong need for order, cleanliness, peace and privacy pitted against my equally intense need for improvisation, family, foolishness and transparency. On bad days I don't know how we will work this out. On good days I think we can learn and grow from each other's differences.

I admit, there is unfinished business from childhood behind my need for imperfection and my violent resistance to being corrected in the kitchen. It makes me feel dirty and ashamed when my cooking is criticized, and I know C never intends to do that.

We took a long walk in the woods the next day and talked about our different ways of handling anxiety. I often don't even know when I feel anxious. I tend to block that emotion, or numb out around it. My mother had M.S. and I had depression from about the age of eight, so I developed the attitude that the worst had already happened. I was most scared that evil lurked within me. I thought nothing outside myself could compare with that fear.

C is much more present to and in touch with his anxieties about the world. He is anxious about averting disaster. He wants to protect and take care of all beings under his care, from his cat to his students to me. He notices all the things that could go terribly wrong in any given situation, scenarios I don't even think of, and does his best to ward them off.

Paradoxically, we trigger each other's worst fears. My fear is of being criticized, and C's acute sensitivity sometimes makes him critical. His worst fear is of having the security of his home broached, or letting people down and my open-door policy and casual attitudes sometimes exasperate him. I think this is normal, and part of the divine plan for marriage--that you marry your worst fear in order to become intimate with it, and learn to love it. To wrestle with the angel until it yields up its blessing. He was attracted to me because of my spontanaeity, my warmth and hospitality. I loved his caring and thoughtfulness and conscientiousness and integrity. But all of our good qualities also have a shadow side. And dancing with each other's shadows is painful.

I admit that the turkey turned out declicious, despite being refrigerated and then reheated. And I am going to get the book The Gift of Fear by Gavin deBecker, which comes highly recommended from my IMPACT Bay Area teachers. I want to learn when it's appropriate to be anxious and when it's not. To stop worrying my one big fear, that I am incompetent and shameful and a Bad Person, and begin to channel that fear in a healthy way, to put it where it belongs.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The night before Thanksgiving I went with G and my friend Phil to hear Carla sing at Yoshi's one last time. She was magnificent, in a pair of killer red shoes with platform heels which made her (and me) very happy. She sang a new song--new for her repertoire, "Smile" which was written by Charlie Chaplin, and a bunch of standards, plus one of my favorite of her originals, "What is Love?"

After she sang it she said, "The great thing is, I don't have to ask that question anymore. I know what love is. It's here tonight," and she looked at the audience and around her onstage. She was surrounded by some very fine musicians and the room was bursting with love. Love carried her on and off stage, and I'm sure love kept her going as she worked her hardest to stay on that tightrope between joy in the singing and the musicianship and cameraderie of her Nice Shirts For Nuthin'; group--John R Burr, Jon Evans and David Rokeach (and she also had some wonderful horn players up there, and a great sax) and the great overwhelming grief that this too is ending.

She went out with It's a Wonderful World, one of my favorite songs ever, and she introduced it by saying simply, "This is the truest song ever written." Cue the tears. I didn't get a chance to hang out with her, as there were too many people and she was completely drained after doing the show--she had given 1000%--but I bought two more of her CDs to give as Chanukah presents.

Thanksgiving at our house was very musical and sweet. We had a 96-year-old guest (I incorrectly told G in her hearing that she was 94, whereupon she drew herself up to her full height and corrected me, "I'm ninety-six!") She didn't look a day over eighty, I swear. She'd had polio as a four-year-old and had to do all kinds of painful physical stretches and exercises when she got out of the hospital, but she said her mother stood over her and never let her give up and she's had a long productive life, married, had children, worked, and last week led her retirement home's book club discussion on Obama's autobiography, Dreams of My father.

We had turkey and all the other stuff, plus the piano, organ, the mic set up for singing. Shazam came and played her harmonica and sang, and took a turn at the keyboards. Leslie was there with her electric guitar, C played piano and bass, and Amar and Sahib-Amar played, Sahib-Amar on viola, Amar on everything, piano, organ, flute... We sang a bunch of oldies, Beatles' tunes, and Motown. I want to learn how to sing Etta james' version of "At Last." I'm thinking that should play at our wedding reception, as it took us so long to find each other.

It was lovely and sunny and warm all weekend, and C studied for this big odious test he has to take, while I wrote the play about military recruitment. We took breaks for hikes and a tennis game and to varnish the drawers and shelves of the in-law's cabinets. I was feeling very confident and excited about the play; today, after getting Ruth's comments I feel a little insecure. But the important thing is to finish and then show it to people. Everything else has always needed a revision, why not this?

This morning I pruned. Cut back the incredibly aggressive Mexican sage with its velvety purple flowers, the fig tree that started as a tiny twig and has now grown into a towering presence in the front yard, stretching its branches out into the street. I even pruned the jasmine, which I remember planting in tentative wet little clumps years ago and then praying it would come up. It now grasps the railing of the fence firmly, and its greeny tendrils snake out, grasping for something to hold onto. Sometimes it only meets itself; then it twines and grasps and twists around itself. Life. Tenacious, persistent, unconcerned with protocol.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I’m writing the scene between Viola and the Devil and it’s so intense I can only write a line or two before I want to jump up and scrub the floor or run around the block something. I don’t know how real writers do it. It makes me feel jumpy and itchy. When C has played music for a couple of hours he looks beatific, blessed-out, radiant. When I’ve been writing for a few hours I look like I just killed someone and came right from the scene of the crime without bothering to shower. Thank God I have to go do a big Thanksgiving shop; that will ground me.

Saturday night I went with Marci to see the last show of The Monk, a play that was adapted from a lurid novel of the same name by Matthew Lewis. The play, (and the novel) are full of captive pregnant nuns, deals with the devil, religious visions, betrayals, gloomy crypts that are full of rotting corpses, convents and castles, ravished maidens, and a corrupt priest at the center of it all. Stuart Bousel directed and as always I was amazed by his ability to get pitch perfect performances out of his actors, and to be so creative with scenery, lighting and costumes on the tiniest of budgets.

I know Stuart would like to be able to put on some lavish production someday and I wish that for him—he deserves it—but I like the simplicity and creativity that are born of necessity. The actresses were wearing taffeta bridesmaid dresses which had been expertly altered, so that each fit perfectly. Topped with nun’s veils they were provocative and charming. The pacing was quick, crisp and clean, the actors spat out their lines with conviction and the staging was stylized in some scenes, more natural in others, always making maximal use of the tiny space.

It was a pain in the butt to get into the city, especially for Marci who had to drive and park, but there’s something so exciting about going to see live theatre as opposed to curling up at home watching Netflix (even though I’m grateful for that too.) We watched the actors give performances that were as good or better than anything we might see on screen, and knew they were paid next to nothing to do this play, that they had to hold day jobs in addition to a rigorous rehearsal schedule.

The playwright/adapter, Nirmala Nataraj, was taking tickets at the door. She and Stuart told me the big sprawling epic had taken several years and many drafts to adapt. This novel has been in print continuously since it was first published in 1796 when its author was just 19 years old. Stephen King cites it as the reason he became a writer. I’d never heard of it before.

Maybe when I was younger I might have been jealous of them all for having found such vibrant creative community in each other. Certainly I wish I’d had a No Nude Men theatre company to be part of when I was thirty. I wish I’d started writing plays twenty years before I did. In many ways I am making up for lost time. And that’s okay. Thank God I’ve been given this time to retrace my steps, pick up some of the lost stitches. Matthew Lewis was dead in his early forties from a disease that would be curable today. He made good use of his short time.

These days I smile to see the great work the younger generation is creating. Then I go home to wrestle with my own project.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Last night's Wing It! concert was extraordinarily deep, poignant and joyous, with themes of death and loss in several of the stories, an incredible fake Italian opera by Beth, and at the very end, a surprise proposal. As Theron and Elizabeth danced a duet, Elizabeth vocalizing a wordless chant, and Theron wrapping her in a long red cloth, he began to sing, "I have a question..." She continued chanting. Again, he sang, "A question I've been wanting to ask for a while..." He fished a ring out of his pocket and put it on her finger. "Will you marry me?"

She was so overcome she lifted him up--E is amazingly strong, she can even lift Leo--and whirled him through the air, then he lifted her as the room exploded. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I could see by the look on Elizabeth's face that she hadn't expected this at all, had no clue in fact, that he had been plotting. In doing it publicly he allowed all of us to share the moment. So much of their lives and destiny together is tied up with this work, this shared mission, inseparable from it.

I also got to hold a gorgeous 7-month-old baby last night, a warm fragrant bundle snuggled against my chest. Delicious.

After the show a bunch of us went to VIBE, a new lesbian bar across the street where we danced for a while. It was full of younger hipper gay people, mostly black, but there were a few other middle-aged folks besides us. It was enthusiastic and friendly and the music was LOUD and throbbing hip hop. It was fun dancing with my Wing It! friends, not performing, just shaking it the way people do on weekend nights, even though I felt not-young, not-hip, white, and like an audiologist's daughter, which is what I am, i.e. somewhat of a wuss when it comes to bone-shakingly loud music. On the other hand there's times and places to get your bones shook up, and this seemed like the night for it.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Last night we went to dinner at the home of C’s favorite colleague and his wife. We walked into their apartment and a lovely familiar voice filled the room, singing I Could Drink A Case of You. I couldn’t figure out how they had gotten a copy of Carla’s Extraordinary Renditions, the CD which has this song on it. But it was the radio, KCSM Jazz station. This couple has a great sound system and her voice was crystalline and gorgeous, surrounding and lifting us like wings.

I don’t write about writing in here very often because writing involves a lot of sitting still and sipping tea or coffee and putting down some words and then changing them, and then restoring them back to the original. I forget who it was who said watching a writer work is like watching paint dry, but that’s how it is.

I always love movies about writers. Remember Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman in Julia, throwing the typewriter out the window? It’s a completely unbelievable scenario, but fun to watch, and the actress looks much cuter than the real Lillian Hellman ever did. You can see the screenwriters struggling animate what is, at heart, an internal process. But I have been writing during this period of almost no teaching work, and this is the update.

I’ve had two more essays accepted; one by The Sun, called Baggage: A Love Story, about the process of two middle-aged people making room for each other (Dede the cat has a starring role.) And another essay, On the Court, to MORE Magazine, about playing tennis as a metaphor for relationship. I am really proud of the On the Court essay, I think it’s one of the best-written things I’ve done. I used David Sedaris’ essay Journey Into Night from the New Yorker as a model for describing an ordinary environment, and paid more attention than usual to place descriptions.

The Sun also accepted another poem, “Greedy,” and Hanging Loose has taken my long poem “Sustain,” so that’s all good. The poetry manuscript is out at a couple of places and I know it’s a finalist in at least one contest, but it’s been a finalist several times before without hitting the jackpot, so we’ll see..

I signed a contract with an agent to market a book of my essays! Twenty years worth of essays, mostly published in The Sun, but a few in other places. She said (and I agree) that I’ll need to write some connective material, to link them. And there’s the task of re-editing the works. I have two new essays, one about Carla, and one about the women’s self-defense classes I’ve been taking that need a few more drafts. The women’s self-defense essay is just about done, the Carla piece needs a lot more work.

And I’m in the middle of a new play, a play I’ve been trying to write for a couple of years. I started it in spring of ’07, when C and I had first started dating—originally we thought we’d try writing a musical together. That idea hasn’t been shelved and the scenes I wrote have languished in my computer for the past eighteen months.

I’m rewriting it now, not as a musical, but as a straight play, and the characters are coming to life. It’s an exciting and unnerving process—unnerving, because I really don’t know what happens next. I don’t know the secret of one character’s parentage, I’m not sure if a marriage I’m writing about will endure or not, I’m not even sure if a certain character might not be the Devil in disguise. People are saying unexpected things, and I’m holding back the development of two key characters until a little later in the play when they can have their revelations.

As I write I’m so grateful to John Patrick Shanley for being my teacher these past few months—I’ve read and absorbed every word of his plays. He’s given me a lot of permission to let everyone speak from the gut, to let things be more emotionally real. Plus I think I’ve absorbed a lot of structure, not through analyzing it but through experiencing it, which is how I learn best.

What I’ve been reading: 13 by Shanley (plays); Dirty Sexy Play and other plays by Shanley; Moonstruck and other screenplays by Shanley, Psychopathia Sexualis by Shanley, Doubt by Shanley, Defiance by Shanley, etc. I’ve also read August: Osage County by Tracey Letts, which is a great play that won the Pulitzer. I’ve got a volume of Sarah Ruehl’s plays next to my bed which I’ll start on next. I’ve also got The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, which I haven’t cracked open yet.

C and I arm-wrestle each week to see who gets to read The New Yorker first. This week there’s a great short story by Edwige Danticat about Haiti. I’m still struggling to read Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red—I know it’s a significant and beautiful poetry collection, but it’s hard for me to crack. I’ve just bought Matthew Dickson’s Great American Poem.

We finally watched The Kite Runner, which was wonderful, and I asked C to order Scarface from Netflix because JP Shanley (aka God) said the screenplay influenced him as he was writing Moonstruck. Specifically he said (in the introduction to Moonstruck) that he felt Oliver Stone really loved all the characters he wrote for Scarface.

I thought Al Pacino’s performance was amazing—I lived in Miami for a year following the Mariel boatlift, and he looked, dressed, and sounded like a real Cuban refugee. He must have done meticulous research. But I couldn’t see the great love for the characters that Shanley was talking about. They are all a bunch of more or less miserable people, dope fiends, dealers, gangsters—and they all end up dead. The last act is a siege of Al Pacino’s drug kingpin palace—there’s a memorable scene of him nose-down in a mountain of cocaine, and then the last scene where he is shot and topples off the balcony into his ornate swimming pool, the water darkening to blood-red around him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Ten girls in various states of excitement, nerves and giggles. Ten girls between the ages of fourteen and twenty, taking a private teen class in self-defense. This time I was lucky enough to be an assistant. I was nervous myself: afraid I would mess up somehow, forget something crucial (the video camera!), also afraid, honestly, that it would be tedious.

The hours flew by. Now that I know the basic strikes, it was all a lot less mysterious to me, but no less interesting. Interesting to watch the girls hit softly at first, and then with more and more strength as the male suited instructor upped the ante by giving them more resistance in the staged muggings. He evoked their ferocity and it came out, all at once for some, more slowly and tentatively for others.

Since it was teens, there was a whole section on date rape and dating violence. As I sat silently in the circle and listened to the instructors list off the various characteristics of rape and sexual assault as well as the more ubiquitous boudary trespasses, I thought "Shit! My boundaries have been crossed so many times I can't count them all." From age fifteen on, it was like I had a big target on my chest. Literally on my chest. I've had drunken men-- complete strangers--lunge at my breasts and grab them. I've had men grind their pelvises into me on subways and at parties. When I was a teenager the guy who cut my hair used to press his erections into my arm as it rested on the side of the chair. I blushed and was silent. I didn't know I could call him on it. I never told anyone.

I looked around the circle and wondered if these girls had begun experiencing those things yet. I always felt it was my fault for being big and voluptuous and not disguising my body adequately. Who would I have been if I could have truly understood that I could walk proudly in my body in the world? These girls have so much more education about these things than we did. Yet I saw some of them hunched over their breasts in the same way I was, disconnected from their breath and bodies.

It was great being on the other side of the mat, having the perspective of an assistant. When I was a student I was so hung up on doing the kicks and strikes perfectly. Turns out it doesn't matter that much. Yes, it's nice when someone has great technique and can really land a strike with precision and force. But the real deal is spirit--something you can't teach, only evoke. The spirit of ferocity, of willingness to fight for yourself, of rage and creativity, of courage. One of the male instructors had a T-shirt that read "Courage expands with use."

i struggle with this issue about being perfect. In self-defense class, in Wing It!, in being on Carla's caregiving team, in all my relationships, in teaching, and of course in writing. Funny, because I don't look like a perfectionist. But scratch the surface and there it is.

Mark Twain said the difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug. Working on a poem I'll put something through a thousand drafts (only to have Ruth write, "I liked your earlier draft better.") Allen Ginsberg wrote many many crappy poems. Walt Whitman had great spirit yet he was sometimes verbose and tedious.

In singing there is the harmonious note, and there is the one that is off-key. Some singers are perfect, and then there are those, like Bob Dylan, who aren't but have that something else--spirit. The desire to be excellent to be perfect wars within me with the desire to rebbel and also just this off-key thing which is not rebellion but the particular way I do things.

Anyway, the girls. I can't talk about them in too much detail because of confidentiality agreements, but they ranged from tiny and skinny to big, from a very young 14 to a very mature 20, from girls who were comfortable in their bodies to girls who were soft and plump and looked as if they hardly moved off the couch. All kinds of girls. They go to a small school and all know each other, and it was sweet to see them during breaks, sitting on each others' laps, leaning against each other, sharing gummy bears and energy bars.

I got the feeling that I could do this, teach this stuff, someday. I don't know. My teacher, Nicole, was so excellent, such a yogi, precise and energetic, a perfect fighter, that I walked away from class thinking, "I could never do that." but seeing other teachers now, with different styles, I realize that there's more than one way to do it. I could find my own style. For now, I'm happy to assist. I feel good thinking that there are ten more girls in the world who have the basics of how to defent themselves.

Friday, November 14, 2008

I'll start with last Thursday night, a week ago, two days after the elction. Coke and I were co-teaching our class, Interplay Writing, or whatever it's called. But of course everyone was still stunned/giddy from the election.

Coke, who has an MSW said she felt the country had been under a cloud from Bush's mental illness for the last eight years.

"Mental illness?" I said. "Nixon was mentally ill. He was paranoid. Bush is the guy who won elections because so many people felt like they'd like to have a beer with him. He's affable and clueless."

"Delusional," she said. "Sometimes delusional people can be quite affable."

A student who is a clinical psychologist agreed. "He's delusional." This opened a window in my brain and I wanted to ask more. What about Cheney? evil or delusional? Karl Rove? Sarah Palin? Condoleeza Rice? I wanted to know everyone's diagnosis. But the class is not there to dissect the psychologies of politicians, it's for people to move and marry their word-making to their bodywisdom.

But just that little snippet allowed me to feel some compassion for Bush, which I've been feeling lately anyway. The thought that he might have done what he did sincerely not seeing reality because he's mentally il had never occured to me before.

When I was little and used to scream "I hate you!" at my brother or say it about another kid on the playground, my mother would always admonish me, "Don't say hate. You can't hate anyone except Hitler." In my little five-year-old mind, the two were synonymous, Hate and Hitler; and they both began with H!

Now, I notice that when I drop my hatred of Bush for a second, my self-judgement and self-hatred also soften and release. I benefit. I can feel it physically.

Of course it's easier to feel sorry for the poor bastard when he's down and being kicked.


I admit I went into a bridal shoppe with Marci. I publicly confess that I tried on a fake-gem-encrusted white satin strapless gown with a big stiff sequinned girdle-y thing, while the reed-thin shopgirl held it closed against my waist (it was the wrong size) to show me what it would look like. I admit I was wearing gym socks, and that the effect was less than camera-ready BUT that my waist and hoips looked great held into this contraption because it was so highly structured. At that price it ought to be--it cost somewhere around a mortgage payment. I will never ever wear a white satin wedding gown, but now I can say that I did try one on. Next stop: vintage clothing stores where I will be looking for a 50s style Marilyn Monroe type frock, hopefully in emerald green or something...


I also took my Little Sister (and her real, biological big sister) to Chuck E. Cheese. My only excuses for this excursion is that she had been begging for it for weeks, I had never been to Chuck E. Cheese before and didn't know what it was. It's Vegas for kids. Pinballs whistles bells lights flashing and total non-stop stimulation. Perfect place for a kid with ADD.

And of course it's a rip-off. You pay 20.00 for a dinky not-very-good medium pizza and two drinks, and then the kids start begging for tokens to put into the machines. You're trapped. You're a caught fish in a barrel of neon. You're an American sucker.

I flat-out refused to go there, earning me the title of Meanest Big Sister Ever I'm sure. I just know with her that it's never enough. You buy one thing and then she wants another. She collected enough tickets to get a couple of cheap-o made-in-China plastic thingys at the counter where you can redeem such things, and of course it broke in the car ten minutes later.

Which led me to reflect on her bottomless hunger for stuff, stimulation, candy, toys (and despite being poor, their house is stuffed to the gills with clkothing and toys, so much stuff that she can't even get to it. Stuff is easy to come by in America.)

She's no different from me. Tuesday night I went to a clothing swap with my friend Marci and half a dozen of her girlfriends. We had all cleaned our closets. I brought four shopping bags full of old clothes, clothes that I had spent hours shopping for, at Ross, on-line, at the Goodwill, wherever. Some were skinny pants that no longer fit. Some were things I'd ordered which never worked, and which I never wore and never will. Four bags.

It was great fun--soon there were six women in their underwear in the living room, stripping off sweaters and passing them around. I scored a great pair of Michael Kors jeans--thank you, Marci--a red cashmere designer sweater, and a great pair of high-heeled black ankle boots. I saw clothes that never fit me properly go home with other women, looking much better on them than they had on me.

The part of me that's like my little sister is that, like her, I attempt to fill in the void through the endless acquisition of stuff. After the clothing swap I got inspired and went through my closet again, being even more ruthless and thorough. I gleaned four more bags of cast-ffs which went to the Goodwill. Let the record show that I now have a neatly organized closet full of clothes I can wear and access. Good for me. But the process of weeding out made me confront just how much time I had spent in these stores and on-line (and how much money!) buying pretty things that gave me a momentary thrill but no lasting satisfaction and which ended up cluttering my closet and my life.

It's hard for me to find a happy medium between some of the Puritan values I imbibed growing up, and the incredibly wasteful spend-a-thon that is American culture right now. Where';s the balance between self-deprivation and mindless consumption?

What makes me happiest are experiences, not things. People. Movement. Moments. Before my birthday everyone was asking me what I wanted for a gift. The best gift was going back to Massachusetts and having my nephew Eli park his bony little butt on my lap and squirm around, oblivious to my bladder and kidneys, until he found just the right position for himself. The biggest gifts I want right now are things only I can give myself: exercise. Meaningful work. Sweet time with kids (not at Chuck E. Cheese!) Opening my heart.


Wednesday there was a meeting with the Driving Miss Craisy crew and Peggy Flynn, an angel/facilitator/caregiver-support person. We met for a couple of hours without Carla and then for about an hour or two with her. Peggy is ruddy, white-haired, kind, and direct, a self-described "Irish Matriarch" who spent fifteen years in the trnches during the AIDS epidemic in San Francisco. One of the life-changing things I learned from her is that people suffering from the nervous system disorder/diseases--MS, ALS, Parkinson's--sometimes get jumpy or anxious simply because their nerves are misfiring. Aside from all the very real things there are to be anxious about with a fatal illness, there is a component that's like PMS or menopause, a purely physical surge of emotion which isn't aleways directly related to what seems to be causing it.

She also said that caregivers and people close to the person with MS or ALS may experience a sympathetic nervous response--because we're all attuned like strings on a guitar; when one string goes out of whack, our strings get jangled as well. She said that groups like ours, although composed of separate individuals are also like one big organism--like a family--and we share energetic patterns.

About our group, she remarked on the high degree of perfectionism and anxiety she noticed among us--also the intensity of feeling, the sensitivity--sometimes super, or over-sensitivity to the slightest nuance of feeling--and the love. She said most groups of long-term caregivers do not have this intensity of love for the person they are caring for. Carla being Carla it all makes sense; everyone falls in love with her instantly, doctors, nurses, people on the street--because she loves people freely and deeply and has a much wider-capacity than usual for attracting and feeling and giving love. It's probably her biggest talent--even more than her talent for singing, acting, writing, teaching, directing--this love thing.

She's also a perfectionist, of course, even now--she's trying to be the best ALS patient ever--and we're all trying to be the best caregivers ever. There are a lot worse things you could say about someone than that they are always striving for excellence, but the other side of that coin is that it's stressful and exhausting always to be trying so hard. I could understand better, listening to Peggy parse it out, why hired caregivers with a degree of detachment, might provide a welcome respite from all the intensity and mutuality and primal feminine caring that goes on all the time between carla and her friends.

I plead guilty myself to perfectionism--underneath my laid-back hippie exterior, I can be as tightly-wound as the next girl. I have to remember to ground myself, keep feet on the floor, keep breathing and remembering that I actually can manage the physical world, including whatever details I can do for Carla, just fine. The anxiety about my supposed incompetence that I absorbed growing up came more from my mother's illness than from anything else. It wasn't that we were incompetent, it's just that her nerves were misfiring which made her irritable and twitchy.

Peggy's insight was so helpful to me; I always blamed my mother for being so controlling, but it may have been just that we were too connected and my nervous system received too many of her stress signals. And women are like this--we connect on a whole-body level with each other. Put a few of us in a house together for a month and our hormones synch up; we all start menstruating at the same time. We'[re all giant puddles of water laced with finely detailed electrical conducting systems.

I wouldn't trade being a woman for anything, but male friendships more restful. And sometimes you need a rest.


Last night C and I watched The Kite Runner--finally. I had been afraid to watch it because I knew it would be intense, and it was--but it was also just what the doctor ordered--literally.

Peggy had said about our hyper-vigilant deeply loving overcontrolled group of perfectionists, "If you were Irish you could all get drunk together--and that might not be a bad idea. Why don't you watch a sad movie together, and all have a good cry."

That might be difficult to organize, given how many of us there are, but watching Kite Runner and thinking of the suffering of the poeple in Afghanistan--and people all over the world--allowed me to release at the end. Nothing dramatic. I just leaned into C's warm body, and felt the emotion move through me, qyuietly. It was very quiet. A warm rush of tears, and deep breaths. There is a lot of suffering in the world. We are living incredibly privileged lives, and there is suffering, but when you can move into the heart, it is warm and soft in there.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

My friend E called at 11:00 p.m. I could hardly hear her over the blaring of car horns and the sounds of people screaming with joy.

"Oh my God, oh my God, oh God, you should see this! It's like--people are dancing in the street! They're sitting on their cars and dancing and cheering and crying and hugging each other! I've never seen anything like it! It's just this--outpouring..." and then I couldn't hear her anymore.

C and I were just going to bed. We'd had a little gathering here, a few friends, and watched the returns together. When Ohio was announced and we knew the number of electoral votes would put him over the top, the tears started to flow. We broke out the champagne and then watched, cheering and crying, as the win became a mandate, became a kind of landslide. Could it be? Was it really? The cameras cut to pictures of Jesse Jackson weeping and pressing his finger gently to his lips as though with that small gesture he was comforting generations of souls who did not live to see this day but were seeing it now through him.

Two days later, and we're still processing. It's hard to take in that in our lifetimes we have lived through a miracle. I wish we had been in the streets that night. E said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I believe her. It's so many things at once. Not only having a leader of integrity, someone we can respectin the White House, not only this beautiful Black family, but the sheer fact that it was done. They said it couldn't be done and we did it. Anything is now possible, for anyone--and that means me too. And you. Everyone.

At the same time I remember that it was E who called me when the California Supreme Court decision came out to allow gay marriage. Her voice overflowing with emotion, she announced, "Ali, I'm normal! The Supreme Court says so! My love is as valid as anyone else's!"

"You were always valid," I said. "With or without any Supreme Court ruling. But normal--I'm not so sure." We laughed. Who would want to be "normal," I thought. Now that the right to marry has been taken away--again--I'm looking at normal in a new light. Normal means just having the simple rights to lead your own life, including your love life, in as ordinary a way as anyone else. Ordinary can be holy.

Normal means that while C and I plan our wedding and talk about the guest list and the musicians and the vows and I start obsessing over finding the right dress--(off-white or flame-red or emerald green? Cover the flabby upper arms with lace sleeves or commit to nine months of daily long swims? How much cleavage?) While I get to occupy my mind with these burning questions, my friends should be able to be similarly taken up with thinking about whatever obsesses them instead of spending precious energy fighting for a basic civil right. Normal means you get to think about whatever you like.

My friends Randy and Michael joke that they've been married more times than anyone else--to each other. While any drunken pair of heterosexuals can make it legal in Vegas with the person they just met at the bar, these two have renovated a house, and seen each other through some stressful passages over seven years. I've lost count by now, but they've married in Canada, they got married in SF when it was legal for a minute back in '04, They had a non-legally binding big wedding in Berkeley, they married here in Oakland a couple of months ago. And I think they may have done it in Massachusetts and/or Vermont or New York. I wonder if I would have the stamina to put my heart out all those times in front of witnesses, knowing that these forces were arrayed to knock it down.

When a lesbian couple got married in my synagogue this past September, Rabbi David joked, "Another Kehilla couple rushing to the altar." These women have been together 25 years, raised a son together, buried parents, endured job changes and illnesses, maintained a stable home, been part of a spiritual community, and all the rest of it. The only thing they hadn't done is see their union legalized. Then they did. Now they see it taken away.

I refuse to see Prop 8 passing as anything more than a temporary setback. I am SURE we will restore justice, through the courts, through federal legislation ultimately, and mostly through just changing people's minds, allowing them to see what's been right in front of them all along--gay people shopping at the supermarket, gay people walking their dogs, dropping their kids off at school, going to work, having coffee. Gay people walking around the lake, driving cars, falling in love, having all the usual struggles to make it work, living their lives. How this affects anyone else's "traditional marriage" is beyond me.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

No rain. Bright skies. C got up first, and then I stumbled downstairs. It was still dark out. The kitchen clock read 5:53 a.m. Our poll opened at 7:00 and we wanted to vote together before C had to leave for work. A quick shower for him. A quick half cup of cold coffee and an energy bar for me. Sunrose as we walked to the polling place, an elementary school near our house.

When I was a little girl, I used to watch the election returns with my father. The Boston Globe ran a map on its front page, with the different states and their electoral votes. You could pencil them in yourself as the results rolled in.

The first election I voted in was 1976, when Jimmy Carter was the Democratic nominee. I had reservations voting for him because he was a born-again Christian, but it turned out to be the best vote I ever cast. Until now.

The line was already forming when we got to the school steps at 7 a.m. Most of the other folks in line with us were African Americans. If I was feeling tremulous and thrilled and disbelieving that we had actually gotten to this moment, how much more so were they? C was anxious: was I sure this was the right place? He couldn't find our street number on the list. I kept telling him I had voted here for the past several elections. The line inched forward, and then the poll-workers got their tables set up and we entered the warm building.

A couple of mix-ups--one guy was in the wrong line, or something. he was very upset about it. They kept offering him an absentee ballot, and he didn't want it, he wanted a real ballot but he didn't want to have to wait in line all over again. An older black lady ahead of me wore a red knitted cap with a pom-pom on it, and leaned on her daughter's shoulder. "I'm just going to lean on you," she said to her daughter. Then, "I'm going to call up Mary and tell her she needs to put on her shoes and come down and vote."

The older black people were the most poignant to me. After having lived through so much, to see the day when a young black man is on the verge of being elected president--

Then it was my turn. Thank goodness they have paper ballots this year. I inked in for Obama and Barbara lee and then started in on the propositions. I had a cheat sheet in my pocket, which was just as well, as I can't read the fine print on those things anyway. I handed it to the man who put it into the machine and watched him turn the crank while my number flashed: 14. I was the 14th voter at that polling place today. I'd bet the percentage of people voting for obama in our neighborhood is somewhere around 95 percent.

C was still at his little booth and I saw a flash when he took a picture of his ballot. On our way out, we paused on the steps to take another picture, when the enormity of what is happening hit him in the face and he suddenly burst into tears. It was a surprise to him. We took our picture at the bottom of the steps. My hair is a mess, his nose is red--and we are so in awe of being here, now, in this time, along with everyone else.

Then it was work for him and Home Depot for me, and now to the grocery store to buy some snacks for tonight when we'll have a few friends over to watch the returns with us. This is a night to gather the tribes. This is a night to kneel down, cry, exult, breathe deeply, be altogether reverent, hopeful, and tremulous.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A friend, Laurie Adams, who was my roommate in Malawi last year, has taken a few weeks out of her life to go volunteer in Colorado for the Obama campaign. Her group letter was so inspiring and humbling that I asked her permission to reprint it here.

Hi all,

As some of you know, I arrived here in Littleton, CO last week to volunteer for the Obama campaign through election day. As I sit in the home of my host family this morning, preparing for a day at the Obama headquarters down the street, it felt important to share some of this remarkable experience with my friends, and to ask for your prayers/ good thoughts/intentions for this country as we head into the final days before the election. I am both hopeful and afraid, and I would appreciate knowing that I am surrounded by all of you, bringing your calm, loving, peaceful energy into this crazy time. I also know that many of you have been contributing in so many ways, and that these experiences are among many shared by friends and family.

If you don’t already know, this election campaign is being run on the energy of thousands and thousands of volunteers (1400 from Texas alone are dispersed throughout the US right now); these volunteers are both local and national and represent every kind of diversity you can imagine – veterans, Republicans, Independents, straight, gay, African Americans, Latinos, and everything else in between, 18 yr olds, 20 somethings and 80 somethings, kids with their parents and parents who’ve left their kids with spouses. All of this is true even in very suburban Littleton. There is a woman in our office from Texas who has left her two little girls twice for weeks at a time to volunteer in Pennsylvania and now here. There is a woman in her 60’s here from Liverpool, England. There is a man here from Littleton whose wife died 5 months ago who had not left his house until he decided to volunteer with this campaign. He arrives each day in his wheel chair
and makes hours of phone calls. On Sunday I took him, wheel chair in tow, to the Obama rally in Denver. We were 20 ft behind Obama with a crowd of 100,000 +. I have met a lot of people who are for the first time in their lives not voting Republican, or they are voting differently from their family for the first time.

I’ve heard a lot of us say how we believe and feel that we are not simply working on a campaign to get someone elected, but that we are working to ensure that civil society endures in the US, for a the possibility of a future on this planet, or using the words of Joanna Macy, working for the “Great Turning” – a time of returning to life, with each other, with the earth. We know that electing Obama is the next necessary step. When I was traveling here, I kept getting teary, and I felt like I was joining a corp of patriots, living out a civic duty to help in a small way sustain democracy in the US – not because our elections are a great representation of democracy, but because people organizing to share information, house by house, to make sure we vote and our votes count, is. As my friend Sue here said, if the military families can sacrifice for years on end, then the least we can do is show up for a few weeks.

Obama has already demonstrated without a doubt that he has the capacity to inspire and bring a diverse people together for a common cause who have learned to work efficiently and effectively as grassroots organizers. It is clear now that this is one of the most powerful potential outcomes of his leadership in a world where we are all going to have to get on board 100% to continue to live on this planet in a decent, peaceable and sustainable way.

The last half of his message to us on Sunday focused on this. Obama’s energy was amazing Sunday -- he is a beautiful man whose presence and smile are real and full of life. Two young men behind me said admiringly, as he jogged up the stage , “He’s the fuckin’ MAN!” I totally agree. And I was very grateful for all the secret service who were in front, above, and around us, trying to keep him safe.

I am writing this to you now because, in the midst of one of the most vicious political weeks I’ve experienced, I hope everyone can still feel a little of what this election should be about, and is about, among the people who are working for and voting for an Obama/Biden ticket. Out here in highly Republican Jefferson County, it is easy for me to feel overwhelmed at this point by the cynicism and negativity, the racism, and lies that are informing a lot of people’s decisions.

People’s yard signs get stolen each night, a woman told me to “go away . . . he is an evil, evil man.” College educated people admit, “but what if he really does have ties to Al Qaida?” I don’t know what it feels like other places, but I’m afraid that things are getting overwhelmingly bitter and mean (and potentially dangerous). And so I am also asking you to take some time each day for the next 6 days to offer a prayer or some silent intention, a chant, a
song, or whatever you have, for this country, for this world, and for everyone to stay SANE, to stay calm, to have open hearts and courage. I want to feel the power of caring love is stronger out there than the power of fear and self-interest. Please.

Thank you,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Thank you to all the commenters who wrote in about regretting not having children. Words of wisdom. I appreciate them.

We are both obsessed with the upcoming election. I've got a new word for it: historical intimacy. It means the intimacy you derive from living through an important historical moment with someone. people from the sixties have that with each other. war veterans. even me and my fellow VISTAs who remember the situation in Miami after the Mariel boatlift from Cuba.

In our case, every day we pore over electoral college maps of the country which show the way states will likely vote. We cheer over the states switching from red to pink to light blue to dark blue. If sheer intensity of will could do it, then Obama would be elected right in our kitchen.

Every day the local gas stations drop their prices. I put off filling up my tank for as long as possible, because I know that by next week the price will be lower. Every day the radio says the stock market has dropped another 500 points.

Right now I am procrastinating helping out the painter whom we've hired to help us with the in-law. She and I sanded all day yesterday, with hand-held electric sanders, inadvenrtantly kicking up a huge dust-storm to rival the '29 Depression, and today there are muscles in my back which I didn't even know I had, aching and paining me. I know I should go down there and lay in some primer--all I really want though, is to take a long soak in a hot tub and then crawl back to bed.

Monday, October 20, 2008

These are C's hands on the bass he built himself, from a kit, playing at the party.

My friend Marci and I dancing at my 50th. She's the gorgeous brunette on the left.

Above are pictures from my birthday party, about which more later.

The next few days after the trip home I cried as the glow wore off. I miss my nephews and nieces. I miss everyone of course, but the kids grow so fast. Noah is almost as tall as I am, and he's "beginning to smell himself," as G puts it. An exactly perfect description for a thirteen and a half year old. My biggest regret in life is not having had children, but there was never a time when it felt possible. My first husband Alan was sick for years before we divorced, and we were struggling so much in our relationship then it would have been insane to get pregnant. And afterwards there was no responsible man showing up to partner with me, and the jobs I held had no benefits and did not pay particularly well.

I tried to make up for it be being auntie to the neighborhood kids, by taking in a teenager for a year, and now by being a Big Sister. It's not the same. It's not at all the same. But it is what it is. At fifty, it's the biggest thing I have to accept.

"Why don't you write about it?" C suggested at the kitchen table. I almost bit his head off. "Write about it? I can't!" Because there's everything and nothing to say. I was lucky enough to be of a generation of women who had a choice, and I took my choice and it hurts. I don't know that it was the wrong choice--when I look at how hard my sister works to be a good mother, how much brute endless labor is involved, day in and day out, no real breaks, I know that the other side of the coin is that I was always afraid. Afraid I wouldn't be able to put in the amount of work it really takes and would be consumed with guilt. This is not a job you can do half-assed (although plenty of people do.) But I would rather live with the regret of not having had children than with the regret of having had them and not done right by them.

Carla says "It's not the worst thing in the world not to have had children." I know she is always honest with me, and means it, and I also know that she would say that having had Maclen is the best thing she ever did, her proudest accomplishment, her greatest joy.

I think most women instinctively understand that it's an impossible equation. If you have had kids it's impossible to think of them not being here, or to reckon who you might have been or what you would have done without them. If you haven't had kids it's kind of the same thing. The path not taken always remains a mystery. I hope there's reincarnation so that I will get another chance at that crossroads. Meanwhile I know I am awash in blessings: good health, good family and friends, good partner, good life. And there may be a reason I was meant to be childless in this life.

C gave me a wonderful bicycle for my birthday--just what I wanted--simple enough to be ridden by a wobbly person who hasn't been up on a bike in decades, with a big cushy seat for my big cushy behind. We packed his new bike and mine into the car and went down to Alameda, which is relatively flat and less trafficky, and wepracticed. I didn't fall off or veer into a car, even though I was scared I might. Rding into the sunset (literally!) was beautiful.

We spent the first part of the weekend cleaning and shopping, and had a great party here for my fiftieth. Nothing overly fancy--I made chicken mole, baked a bunch of potatoes and had salad and cake. Other guests brought food, presents, music. The house was full of jazz, C on his bass, and piano, other friends sitting in on piano, organ, sax, flute and drums. I read a couple of poems at the mic, and there was some singing. I love to gather the tribes, watch them interact, and meet each other. New friendships forming. I was so happy! What wonderful people I am blessed to know!

I don't feel fifty--I don't know what fifty is supposed to feel like. This chronology thing is bogus. Some days I'm eighteen, other days I'm ninety and I'm sure that's true for everyone else as well. But I'm here! And there's so much love, more than I can even take in, and so much beauty.