Thursday, January 31, 2008

I'm up to my neck in nieces and nephews and loving it. Anna just rode me like a horse all the way to California(her orders.) We didn't actually get to California--we only got as far as the Rockies when the horse pooped out.

Theo is doing a biography of Dr. Seuss as his third grade school project. He has compiled a bunch of sources and now knows everything worth knowing about the author.

Yesterday I was with my sister and her three in Western Mass--Noah, Eli, and Lucy. My sister Emily has been helping a Mexican farmworker family. The furnace at the house where they are renting has been broken, the landlord won't oir can't get it fixed, and four adults and two tiny children livwe there shivering, wearing snowsuits indoors. The mother, Rosie, is 25 years old but looks fifteen. She's tiny, wearing child-sized clothes and doesn't speak much English, but communicates what she needs with her smiling eyes. She told Emily, "Tell me when your sister is coming again and I will make her chicken mole."

The fat baby toddles around, falls down, laughs. The little girl sat on my lap, a warm weight, and flirted. Their daycare provider, who hardly earns any money herself, had taken it upon herself to help them out and came over to babysit so the parents could go out and look for housing. Another apartment had been found in town, and we all trooped over to see it. My sister translated for the landlord who was a bit dubious, but ultimately agreed. The family is ecstatic!

The kitchen of the new apartment slopes in one of those A-framed, gabled New England roof ways--too short for me, but just right for Rosie, who is only as big as a doll herself--a doll-house.

My nephew Noah, almost 13, can trap one of his farts in a glass, a dubious talent which I hope will stand him well in later life. He has shot up so tall since I last saw him six months ago. His hands and feet are mammoth. His voice has deepened to a baritone. It's all happeniong so fast--one minute he's a goofball child, the next a semi-responsible semi-adult who can intelligently discuss the candidates for the upcoming '08 election. Eli, age seven, has a loose tooth and lives to annoy his brother. And Lucy, little Lucy, is a goofy princess of pure light.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Oh my. Oh my oh my. Here I am in the home of my old friend Ruth and her girlfriend Mchelle; hushed snow, New England rocks, and bare trees. Ruth and I took a long walk through town, talking, talking. A chance for me to digest after the pressure cooker of Detroit, and all the learning that went on there.

Saturday's two shows went very well. Sunday afternoon matinee I snuck in the back incognito in sweats and a T-shirt and watched grown men wiping their eyes at the end of the play. They laughed and cried! The play works! It needs a new title and a little more polishing, but it does work. Sunday morning we stopped in at the JET offices and the director, Nick Callani, waved the newspaper at us. We got a great review! The reviewer loved the play, and she understood it. She got it. And there were THREE big photos of the actors! I hope that draws audience.

Sunday night Evelyn and I went to see The Rabbit Hole, the play that won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. It was pitch perfect. Not one false note. The cast and production at the Meadowbrook Theatre were superb. The play is wrenching. It deals with the aftermath of a family's grief when a child is killed in an accident--but it is cleansing and achingly human. It deserved the Pulitzer.

Afterwards we went out to dinner with some of the actors and I heard how detailled the script was. Apparantly the writer punctuated the lines, not necessarily according to the rules of grammar, but exactly as he wanted them said. In revision, I would like to do that with Saying Kaddish, or whatever it will end up being called, so that nuances are clearly marked, and there is less room for misinterpretation. The script then becomes like a musical score. Suzan-Lori Parks writes like that.

Even though I am 95% happy with the direction of my show, there are a few key places where I wish I could change things. Evelyn had urged me to come out earlier, when they were still in rehearsal, but it felt too stressful snd expensive, making that many cross-country trips in the middle of winter. And truth to tell, I don't know if I could have articulated what was needed then. As Grace Paley said, "It takes a long time in me between knowing and telling." I had to see it several times, watch the audience, digest, and also talk with the dramaturg and other people to begin to arrive at directorial opinions.

Evelyn said to me quite fiercely that it's my play and I need to be as committed to it as a mother is to her child. And I am, I am. The problem is, I've just birthed two other play-babies in the last year or two and I've got another couple brewing in my belly. Kaddish is seven years old and yet still in diapers as this is its real premiere. And it still needs more tweaking and polishing --and a new title.

Anyway, it was three days full of swimming, theatre going, and a marathon of listening. My brain is tired from paying so much attention. C says this is an education I could never get in an MFA program and he's right. One thing I learned that I already knew was that I need to work on my energetic boundaries. Theatre is an intense little world--and of course Jews are an intense people--and put together the combination can be both stimulating and draining. The problem is that I am an incurable listener, always hoping I will hear that illuminating nugget. And often I do. It's just that I have to sit through a tsunami of stories to get there and that becomes exhausting.

Another thing I found out that it cost about $40,000 to mount my show and JET will be content to break even. (Maybe they will even make more--I hope they do.) For that reason, a title that can entice people away from Netflix and out into the cold to buy tickets that cost at least thirty dollars had better be catchy and attractive. So far I haven't been able to come up with one. Help!

The most precious thing I gained were new friendships--with the actors, director, artistic director, and JET's dramaturg, Kitty Dubin, whom I immediately felt as a kindred spirit. A fellow playwright, she understood exactly what I was going through--that it was not all fun and glamour, but work in progress, and she offered exactly the right words of empathy and affirmation, and most importantly the receptive listening that I needed.

It was like water in the desert to be truly deeply listened to--amazing how not very many moments of that sufficed to help put me right again. The other way I kept some clarity was by swimming as much as I could, in the beautiful Olympic sized JCC pool. Stroking through the water, I repeated the 23rd Psalm to myself, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want," but what I needed in that moment was the prayer of St. Francis of Assizi, "Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace...Grant that I may seek/not so much to be understood as to understand..."

In this way I tried to let go of any frustration I felt. I am overwhelmingly blessed to the point where I need help processing some of the blessings. God help me stay in pure gratitude and not descend into nit-picking because of the anxiety all this evokes. My ego feels like a raw red squalling baby. I don't know whether to feed it and comfort it or try and shoot it with a tranquilizer dart.

So many things have come up for me at once in the last few days--the themes of the play, loss, jealousy, family, regret, not-listening--and the Jewish theatre culture is not unlike the warm, conflicted, funny, sad, intensely irritating world I grew up in. I was back home all right! I'd stepped back into the culture that first nurtured me as a child, and was now nurturing me as a novice playwright. How fitting.

I've been frustrated at how hard it is to reach C. Dropped cell phone signals, busy schedules, and most of all the basic impossibility of translating all this into spoken words in a short coherent phone call. I remember when I was in Africa last summer; many of the people on our trip tried to call home. I didn't. That was a good choice. It's too hard to send a boatload of personal and ancestral grief mingled with hilarity through a skinny phone wire.

Right now I'm just so grateful to be in the quiet coziness of Ruth and Michelle's home, sipping tea and blogging while Michelle reads and Ruth prepares a course she is going to teach. In the silence I can hear myself think for the first time in days. I feel back home.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

I'm in Detroit. It's eight degrees. But hey, and hoo hoo ha ha--there's central heating here! I'm wearing long underwear, gray wool lined slacks, a long-sleeved oatmeal sweater topped by a shiny blue shirt, and the high heels I picked up for $5.00 at Community Thrift in SF--and I'm not cold! Exhausted, yes--our day began at 4:30 a.m., driving to the airport in rain and darkness--but not cold.

The play went pretty well tonight. Some glitches--some actors missed lines, and there were places where the energy or the intensity wasn't there the way it should be--but other places where it was. Laughs in unexpected moments. Other moments--and those are the ones you dread--where laughs are expected but none forthcoming.

It's a difficult play. I was trying to do what Chekhov does so well--write lines that reveal the characters, without being only about what they seem to be about. Depth and shallowness co-existing at the same moment. Chekhov pulls it off nicely, but I'm no Chekhov.

They're also advertizing it as "an outrageous comedy" but the whole play deals with death and grief. Also: tons of quick transitions between heaven and earth, reality and super-reality, and flashbacks to different time periods all make big demands on the actors and tech people. I watch too many movies--it's a play that wants the freedom of cinema while still retaining all the word-privileges of the theatre.

The director did a great job with finding evocative music--the last song is stunning, and a complete surprise--and finding creative special effects. The set and costumes were all great--Oprah really shines. Still, there are awkwardnesses and imperfections for which I take responsibility. This was the play I cut my teeth on, the play where I began to learn how to write a play.

The Artistic Director and someone else told me it perhaps needs to be re-titled. At first I was very resistant to the idea--it's been Saying Kaddish with My Sister for the last seven years--but now I'm thinking they might be right. Saying Kaddish With My Sister sounds like something by a failed playwright in a Woody Allen movie. The trouble is, I'm not sure what else to call it.

I had a wonderful talk with the actor who plays Lydia, one of the sisters, about a scene where her character performs a comedy monologue/performance art piece. I have never quite been clear about what I'm trying to accomplish in that scene--how is it moving the play forward, what needs to happen there? Tonight I realized I want a revelation there, some new way of looking at life that's not just hammering on the same themes over and over. She mentioned Eve Ensler and The Vagina Monologues, and that gave me a fresh way to look at it.

I also got an email from The Sun saying they'd like more revisions on an essay they had accepted for the April issue. I agree completely--it's just going to be a challenge getting the time and privacy to write them here. I might be able to score two hours to myself tomorrow if I'm able to be both tactful and firm with setting boundaries--kind of tricky when I'm a guest in someone else's house. I feel ever-so-slightly panicked about whether I can pull it off. Maybe I could try to find an Internet cafe...

The fields and roads here are all dusted with snow. From the plane, Michigan looks like a big wedding cake, cut into different-shaped pieces. I ate good food from home, lovingly packed by C, and read The New Yorker, which has a fabulous short story by Louise Erdrich in it, and a great profile of a painter doing gorgeous semi-pornographic images. And the latest Sun, which had essays on parenting by Sparrow, Krista Bremer and Poe Ballantine which were variously funny (Sparrow), wise, sensuous (Krista) and all all unflinchingly honest.

I know on Krista's part at least, that it's a piece she had been thinking about for a couple of years. I could read in the beauty and care with which she explored the topic of circumcision, many hours of soul-searching and revision. Damn, it takes so long to make something really good and balanced and complete.

I think of those cathedral-builders who designed structures so elaborate and complex and divine that they took generations to build. The architects knew they would never live to see the finished product. They had to content themselves with their vision of the work--and with their faith, perhaps, in an afterlife, where they could see the perfect realization of their best dreams.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Today is my C's 52nd birthday; he has now reached full adulthood according to the Mayan calendar, (although he will always be my baby.) We had an early celebration yesterday--lots of presents, food, and Michael Clayton, a great movie starring George Clooney. Mmmm!

And today I found out that the long one-act hot tub play I wrote, which is now called A Couple of Savages Up to Their Eyeballs in Hot Water (but which my friend Rebecca thinks should be called Cannibals in Heat) is getting a staged reading from the Cold Cuts Series, held at the Algonquin Theater, 123 E 24th St. in Manhattan on February 11. Yes, in just three weeks or something. It's a theatre company that mostly does readings of new plays, but if someone falls in love with the play, there's a possibility for a production. So, good news.

I've got to get ready to go to Detroit tomorrow for the production of my play Saying Kaddish with My Sister. Going to Wilderness Exchange to buy warm things--gloves, hat, better long underwear. Did I mention that it's twelve degrees there? And that my plane leaves at 6 a.m.? And that C, in a fit of loverly madness, I mean devotion, said he would drive me to the Oakland Airport at 4:45 a.m. tomorrow morning? Think of us as you turn over in your nice warm beds.

I've also got to get lesson plans copied because I'll be East on an extended jaunt through Massachusetts and back to Detroit, arriving home Sunday afternoon Feb 3rd to teach at the Writing Salon that night. Oy! I'm going to need a couple of days at Harbin Hot Springs doing nothing but soaking my ass and taking yoga classes to recover from this trip.

How does it feel to be a star? Rebecca emailed facetiously. I wrote back: It does feel good, but I have to get up at the crack of dawn--before dawn even, and I'm still waiting for the big bucks to come rolling in.

I remember working on Saying Kaddish seven years ago and wanting it to be produced so badly, wanting it to live on outside of me, the way a mother wants a child to live, with every fiber of my being. But so much has happened since then; other productions, the relationship with C, Carla's illness...At the time I wanted that for Saying Kaddish, that was all I had to hang my hopes on--my work. Everything was hinging on that star. Now there's so much more life in my life that it puts things like productions in perspective.

Still: "Revel in this!" Carla instructed me, and she's right. I've got to enjoy it, because God knows there was a lot of hard work leading up to this, and there will be more hard work to come. And Rebecca wrote, "ROLL in it, lap it up, rub it in your hair and on your skin. Look in the mirror and repeat, 'I am one hell of a smart, sexy bitch!'

So now I'm going to take my smart sexy frozen-fingered bitch self off to the copy shop and the food store for plane snacks, and the warm clothing store...I'll blog again from Detroit.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Why is it so satisfying to destroy things?

Yesterday C and I worked for a couple of hours in the yard, pruning the fruit trees, cutting back the prickly stickly thorny undergrowth of rose bushes, lemon trees, climbing ivy, castor bean sapling, and various unidentified green beings who had Napoleanic complexes and were bent on taking over the yard as a precursor to the world.

We had bought implements at Home Despot: loppers and whackers and a long pole with a saw attachment that I was afraid to even touch. It was a beautiful day. We set to and immediately started arguing.

If our relationship were the TV sitcom The Odd Cuple, (which it kind of is,) I would be Oscar (Jack Klugman) and C would be Felix (Tony Randall.) C is a measure twice cut once type of worker, methodical, precise, thorough. I am more of a just wade in and start whacking kind of girl. So I waded in and started whacking at a leggy rose bush that was hopelessly codependently entwined with an ancient peach tree, half of whose limbs were dead or close to it.

Whack, whack, clip, clip. I started throwing long thorny stems around the yard.

"Wait!" C yelled.

He made me cut them into small pieces and put them in the green recycling bin. I did not like being "made" to do anything. The argument quickly escalated, and grew to include such phrases as "I got along FINE for 48 years, trimming my own backyard," (me), and "If you got along so well doing it your way, why is the yard so overgrown?" (him.) Both of us had sharp implements in our hands, and sharper ones in our mouths.

(Note to self: "Quit saying, "I got along just fine without you for forty-eight years." It does not advance the conversation in a positive direction.)

When we were able to cool down and talk, or as we say in the Bay Area, "process," we uncovered a few things: C has used to working collaboratively on construction sites, with other men using dangerous tools and heavy equipment. He is a licensed carpenter who's good with tools and equipment.

I prefer to run my own show. When I teach at Writing Salon, I'm in charge of the class; when I work as a poet in the schools, I collaborate with the other teacher, but for the hour of my lesson, I take the lead. When I write, of course I'm the only one responsible for the words on the page.

I like to imagine that I play well with others, but when I look at my work life I find that that happens best when it's on my terms. I've said that I want a collaboration, but the fact is collaboration is challenging for me.

I am used to being the sole owner of this house for the last seven years. It's been good for me, if stressful at times. When something breaks, I've figured out how to get it fixed: call a handyperson, or call a boyfriend. But the buck has stopped with me. I haven't been a perfect homeowner or a perfect landlady. But it's been good for me to have this material-world responsibility to grow with. And the house is still standing.

Now it's time to shift into a new way of being, one that will entail negotiation, compromise, and tons of this processing business that is so time-consuming. Oh man, what have I gotten myself into?

For his part, C was sad that he had gotten angry at me. I assured him that he needn't be: I've prayed for a relationship where the two participants could get angry. It's not that I enjoy being on either the giving or the receiving end of anger, but having lived through a marriage where the unspoken rules were that we would never come into conflict--and having suffered through the awful explosions that came at the end of nine years of that--I'm glad for the opportunity to practice pushing back at someone who has their own agenda. It's like a martial arts instructor: don't hurt me, but throw me your best shot. Help me learn how to stand my ground; help me learn where my ground is.

And: I know down to the bottom of my frost-bitten toes that this relationship is what I signed up for, what I want. Communication. Honest feelings. Sweat and scratches from the thorns. ("Roses have throns, and silver fountains mud." Shakespeare.) Integrity, independence, and respect.

We moved around to the front of the house, and by the time we were done with the front yard the green bin was overflowing and we had pretty well decimated most of the overgrown shrubbery. This being California, everything will grow back in two weeks.

It's much easier to prune, clip, and cut back than it is to plant and make. I remember putting my four kale plants and six broccoli starts in the garden space in the backyard: hard work, squatting, digging, grunting. When I stood up I felt dizzy. Couldn't wait to be done. But lopping things off, cutting away deadwood, doing demolition--bring it on. I love it. It's cleansing and a great relief.

(Is it easier to criticize than to create? To kill a person rather than to spend nine months carrying him,m a day pushing him out into the world, and years trying to teach him to be a mensch? Of course. That's why the world is the way it is.)

So now the front yard now looks like one of those news photos of trailer parks after a cyclone has ripped through. There's a huge pile of felled branches, topped off with a roll of abandoned chicken wire. This all goes nicely with the Collection of Dead Appliances along the side of the house--the dead microwave, the decaying plastic doll house, whom nobody has claimed responsibility for, and the abandoned cooler, which is probably harboring Ebola virus. Very picturesque.

After our foray into gardening and processing, we had fun kissing and making up, including a group shower during which I washed some of the sawdust and organic debris out of my hair. Then we went to see Rebecca Riots perform at Kehilla Synagogue. It was a special show for children and families; the kids and moms were up front, a very multi-cultural patchwork of them, since half of Kehilla has adopted children from various third world countries.

I had terrible baby lust, watching the little ones get up and dance, and especially when I ran into an old friend of mine who had been actively trying to become a mother for seven years. She had finally gotten her daughter--a one-year-old, from Guatemala, only a few months ago. I was so happy for her! I remember the long heartbreak of infertility and then her frustrations trying to adopt as a single (lesbian) mom. Finally, finally, she has her heart's desire, cradled in her arms, a gorgeous little girl whom I wanted to hold, but who is too attached to her mother (a good thing, a sign of health,) to go to a stranger. It lit up my world to see them.

Then I went off to teach at Writing salon again, another good group, I'm going to enjoy them. Today: rain, gloom, and a bunch of food shopping for C who has been fighting a sore throat all week. I made him chicken soup with lemon, dill, ginger, and a ton of garlic and onions; it turned out very well if I do say so myself. I remember making this soup for my friend Susan and her boyfriend Scott when Scott was run-down from chemotherapy.

"My soup can heal the dead, " I boasted, and we laughed. Enver had accompanied me up there, with a wig and lace-up boots and a mini-skirt--he dressed up in drag and lip-synched a great show for Scott, and we ate the soup and laughed. And now Scott is dead, but that was a good moment, for all of us.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Long exhilerating exhausting day teaching at the Writing Salon. I had thirteen great women in my daylong class, including a philosopher, a nurse, a couple of social worker-dancers, a theologian, some consultants, and some businesswomen. Thirteen spirited women; a coven. We covered a lot of ground. Everyone participated fully, heart, mind and soul. I gave all I had and received great gifts in return. Great energy.

Afterwards, I thought I'd have enough left to go out to a party in SF but I can't drag my weary (and flat, from sitting all day) ass over the bridge. I may have just enough left for a half hour on the treadmill and maybe fifteen minutes on the rowing machine, tops.

Thursday I took Carla into the city for accupuncture and we had another lovely deep talk. Bittersweet, the flavor of all experience now. She talks about that word, what it means to her, how it's the only way to name the taste of these days, and I look at her and am reminded of the bright orange berries that are made into wreaths called bittersweet, the same orange tone she has decorated her apartment in, color of the sun just before it sets, of leaves in autumn, of her hair which has no gray in it yet.

She challenges me more than I've ever been challenged before to open to all the love that's available here, now, this present moment. It's hard. I close off so subtly and instinctively, climb up into my head where it's safe, where I can deny the preciousness of experience. I spent a long time learning how to do this, practiced hiding from life by writing about it. A paradoxical way to hide, but it helped me survive what was too intense to be borne.

Yet now her honesty and vulnerability crack me open. What's hardest and most important is to take in how much I love, and how much I am loved. How difficult it is to look at that sun directly. It's like exposing raw scar tissue to oxygen and sunlight.

If it's so hard for me to do that with a healthy body and all the distraction it provides, how much harder it must be for her to receive the vast outpouring of love that buckets over her daily and weekly. She and I have both been better at giving than receiving--it's easier to do, keep busy, write a check, volunteer to drive, than it is to just sit and open one's heart. Yet how unutterably precious the service that the open-hearted one provides just by being and saying, implicitly, "Come on in, the water's fine, it's safe to open now."

In fact, it's imperative to open now.

I bought the book, A Year to live by Stephen Levine and have read the first chapter. It's what he talks about, soft eyes, soft belly, soft heart. Allowing ourselves to soften.

I'm sitting here typing in my little study with lists hung on the walls: lists of writing projects I want to get to, plays, essays, book projects. Lists of goals I hope to achieve, 2007, 2008. Yet none of those goals are as important as the task of allowing my heart to open, and without an open heart all the accomplishments I may accrue this year or next are meaningless. Without an open heart my partnership with C becomes just another item on my life list, and each achievement becomes just another addictive notch on my ego's belt.

I don't want that. In so many ways, I have enough, right now. I have a good lover, after all those years of pining and searching. My dad is in good health, my siblings and nieces and nephews are all doing well, I have wonderful friends, writing is fine. Children are all that's missing, and that's a big thing. Ellen and I were walking around the barren rose garden--not barren, but dormant, and beautiful in a different way than when it is in full flower--and musing about parenthood. The parents we know all say that their children are the most important things they've ever done in their lives.

"Maybe it's the experience of total commitment, "Ellen said, and I'm sure it is, but it also goes beyond that--the kids themselves, the people they become. if you're lucky.

What I pray for now is the courage to open and receive and appreciate this life, even as it flows past me, burning with bittersweet brightness and deep tears.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Beautiful sunny day. The cold is breaking. We finally got wise and pulled out the space heater and down comforter. I know it will be spring by next month. The first hints of what will become buds are already showing.

The tree man came over this morning. A weathered guy, plain as a gray stick, whose face broke into light as he began telling me how to prune. "The tree will teach you what you need to do. The branches should go up and out, like this." His arms reached wide like a dancer. "No downward dogs."

He can't help himself and grabs the lopper from me, even though this was only supposed to be a consult, and starts nipping and trimming himself. "Isn't this fun!" he exclaims, in total sincerity. A man who loves his work. "Oh, what a wonderful yard. You have room for a small orchard back here." We have a peach tree and a persimmon tree and a tiny garden in the back, with my four kale plants and the two broccolis that survived and are thriving.

"I was thinking of maybe a poemgranate or an avocado tree," I offer.

"Or an apple?" he suggests. He trims the peach tree along the side of the house to show me how it's done. A small branch nicks him on the chin as it falls and he swipes away blood.

"Oops, the tree is getting back at me."

I have to teach writing all day Saturday. Good for me--haven't been working much at all this past month or so, except for finishing the draft of the play about poetry and getting a few essays and some poems out. It will be good to be earning money again.

I also got a call from the Jewish Ensemble Theatre in Michigan about my play. Everything seems to be going okay--I'll be there in a week, if they get the plane tickets straightened out. This is what I wanted--to be a playwright. And it comes down to missing plane tickets and long underwear. (No it doesn-t--it comes down to crucial conversations.)

I read Carla's blog ( and am reminded how all this can shift in a moment. None of this is my true identity, teaching, or even writing. None of us even knows what our true identity is.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

So I finished the revision of the play, God help me. The deadline was today and I finished at about 2 p.m., and ran down to the copy shop and got it copied onto three-hole punch paper, and bound it, and included a bio and a check and a cover sheet, and addressed it, and sent it off--and was assured by the postal clerk that the pastage stamp would indeed be marked January 15, which is when it had to be posted by--only to get home and realize that they also wanted me to include a synopsis (almost wrote biopsy) and a list of characters.


1) I hate hate hate writing synopses. Plot is my worst thing, how can I synopsize my play?

2) I forgot to include it in my packet, will they penalize me? (This is the Ashland new plays reading series.)

So I'm writing a synopsis now, and I'll email it to them and hope and pray that the contest gods will be lenient and kind and they'll allow it. After all, there is 78 pages of playscript in the package. Surely that ought to count for something.

My fingers are blocks of ice. I feel like I've done nothing for the past week but sit and type, worry about the play, procrastinate in various creative ways, and type some more. I am so relieved to have it done. And proud of myself for having actually finished. Even if it's not perfect, it's better than the first draft was. I emailed a copy to my friend Suzanne, of Mirror Stage Company, and I can't wait to hear what she thinks. Even if Ashland doesn't take it, she might. Or at least she might have an idea of what to do with it next.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Last night G, Ellen and Beth came over for a rush dinner, then all five of us drove in C's car to Berkeley to see Carla perform at the Hillside Club. I had been wanting my friends to experience Carla in performance for a long time, but with Bay Area-itis, and everyone always having ten other commitments, it had been hard to get them together to go to something. Now, however, Carla's illness gave a focus and an urgency that got them there--and they were all glad they came.

It was not a pity party. It was a show. It was Carla at her most vibrant, powerful, and human. From the moment she stepped on the stage, she owned it. She was sassy, funny, graceful, soulful, and totally in charge. All the angst of the past few months only served to deepen her performance. Throughtout the show she held the audience, most of them friends and friends of friends, in the palm of her hand, even cracking jokes about her ALS:

"I just got diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease, which really sucks because I hate baseball. Why couldn't I get some cool basketball player's disease--like Wilt Chamberlain Syndrome--have sex with 20,000 people and then die? Although I think I'd start to chafe after 5,000 or so."

Then she'd sing some jazz standard about how quickly time goes by and how we never quite grasp the great times while they're here (sorry, I can't remember the title of that one,) and everything was infused with new layers of meaning. She looked hot too, in a semi see-through blouse and camisole and skirt, with cute little round-toed pumps.

It wasn't until her last number, "Wonderful World," that the tears started to really flow for me. Uncontrollable. That song is like Gospel for Carla (and for me,) and she sang it as a love song, which is what it is. A love song to the world. My friend Bethie, who cries more easily than me, had been crying all through the performance, but it took that song to find the chink in my Prozac armor. (It's not just Prozac that makes me a tough crier, it's a long-time habit of denial in the face of deep water. But then I always end up in the swim anyway.)

She was precious up there, strong and vulnerable, and totally real. She held the audience--not just with her exquisite singing, but also with the emotional tightrope she was walking, between intense enjoyment of the moment and unbearably poignant awareness of how fleeting it all is. I especially love the two duets she did--an Appalachian tune, very mournful, with just Mike accompanying her on sax, and a beautiful soft number with the piano player (sorry, I can't remember names.)

C noticed me crying on Wonderful World and reached over and held my hand. I was proud of my two dudes, C and G, sitting next to each other. They're buddies. It's so sweet. And my grrlz. And other friends who heard about the concert on this blog and drove long miles to see and hear Carla. Her blog by the way is, and I'd put it up on the links section of this blog, except I that I am too technically incompetent to figure out how that works (C tried and he can't figure it out either.)

And now it is today--C's out with David, climbing around on a roof in San Francisco somewhere (yeesh!) and I have to go to Writing Salon and get new keys, and go to the grocery store and pick up food for two different potluck dinners, and try to get more done on the play.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

My four-year-old niece called me just now from the barbershop where her big brother was getting a haircut. At first there’s just heavy breathing on the phone. Then her husky little voice, saying “Aunt Alison.” She’s going to be four tomorrow. I’m giving her a copy of Koko’s Kitten, a book about a chimp who adopted a kitten. My sister says she’s been asking a lot of questions about death lately, maybe it’s some developmental thing—my other niece, the same age, different family, seems to be going through it as well.

“I know you have a special birthday tomorrow,” I told Lucy.

“I’m going to be four!” she reported proudly. “How old are you?”

“Uh…forty-nine.” A pause while she tried to make sense of this astronomically high number. “That’s pretty old, huh?” I added helpfully.

“That means you’re probably going to die soon,” she responded. I laughed. But it gave me pause. In many African countries, life expectancy is less than forty. Approaching menopause, I’m also approaching borrowed time, bonus time, time my ancestors probably didn't have. My ex-husband died at age forty-five. My good friend just received a terrible diagnosis. Nothing is promised or guaranteed.

The other day a friend who is also a good friend of Carla's said that she was “angry at a God she didn’t even believe in.”

I’m not.

I believe in God, but I don’t believe God is a person-like entity who gives people ALS or cancer. I think God is a vast creative energy that our puny human consciousnesses cannot even begin to comprehend. I believe we are all molecules in the body of God.

There’s a guy in Brazil, I think people call him St. John. One of my writing students told me about him. People come from all over the world to get healings for incurable conditions from him. There are surgeons in the Philippines who operate without using knives, anesthesia or blood. They put their hands into the ailing human body and come up with the tumor and throw it away.

Maybe the God I believe in is Physics and Chemistry, but not just the Physics and Chemistry that have been "discovered" by humans so far. I mean, all the Physics in the Universe, the dimensions we haven't mapped yet, the subtleties scientists are just now uncovering or will uncover in a hundred years if we don't burn ourselves up first.

Like Chekhov I believe, I hope, people of the future may be smarter than we are now. they may figure out some of the things we do not as yet know.

I believe in people like St. John, and other healers, even though I don't know how they do what they do--I don't know how an X-ray works either, or aspirin, or electricity, or this computer I'm typing on. It's just another type of technology. If there can be lasers and ultrasounds, if we know that matter is not solid, but that we are indeed a roiling mass of moving molecules, if we know now that everything in the Universe is connected, then why not people who can work with energy flows, who can reverse even grim diseases like ALS, who can perform miracles? Why not?

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I would like to be the kind of woman who loves rainy days, who skips through puddles and embraces the wind and the storms, exclaiming "Isn't it wonderful!" as freezing water trickles down the back of her neck.

Unfortunately I am more the kind of woman who cringes and winces and huddles and shivers, as I am now, up in her freezing cold room, because this house is an uninsulated barn, and my PG&E bill was $500.00 last month. And I know I know, it's seventeen degrees in Massachusetts or something and even C has taken to teasing me about my thin-blooded California wussiness, but okay, I'm a thin-blooded California wuss. With the metabolism of an elderly lizard.

Right now I'm wearing long undies underneath my sweat pants, and a t-shirt and a sweat-shirt (I know, this is almost too sexy to bear) and my hands are like blocks of ice as I type. I'm going to the gym to sit in the hot tub and after that I'll bring the computer to a coffee shop and work--any old coffee shop, just so someone else pays for the heat.

I'm going great guns on the Greeny Flower play, which is now tentatively named Eva Pearl. No word on See How We Almost Fly yet. It's out at at least a dozen other contests, so if this one doesn't come through, there's still a chance something else might.

C is back at work, where new kids with new problems have shown up at Juvenile Hall. Haven't seen Carla for a few days but my thoughts are with her constantly.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

We are cocooning and being disgustingly domestic and relaxed and happy, in our sweat pants and wool socks, eating meatloaf for breakfast, tapping away at our laptops, or painting, or playing music, or watching movies. I feel like I could be snowed in like this with C for months and not get bored. I’d emerge on the other end, pale and flabby with a full-length play and a bunch of paintings; meanwhile, he’d have built a whole addition to the house which would be turned into a sound studio/performance space, and fitted it out with equipment he ordered on-line.

It’s gray and wet and nasty outside—high winds closed several bridges, and there’s even been thunder and lightning plus torrents of rain. Inside we’ve been playing Bobby McFerrin and Eva Cassidy and Tuck & Patti and Eliza Gilkyson and C has been accompanying the CDs with guitar or piano and I’ve been singing along.

Right now he’s hacking away on the computer trying to help me apply for an NEA grant—the deadline’s not till March, but it’s good to start these things early. The web site is impenetrably lousy—it’s like a nightmare labyrinth which you enter as a little mouse, wanting the cheese that is the cash grant at the center. You end up chasing your own tail, scurrying through the virtual corridors for hours and not getting anywhere. I wonder if this is the government’s way of eliminating people. I know the grants are very competitive and I am not going to count on winning one, but, as G would say, it wouldn’t suck. I’d especially love it if See How We Almost Fly got taken, and then I could focus on writing a bunch of new odes to flesh out Sustain.

The Marie Antoinette play is inching forward and then I start revising the old play about the grocery store…

At breakfast, we talked about master’s degrees. I don’t have any—I’ve been a B.A. backdoor kind of girl all my working life--but I think about getting two; one in human development/psychology/criminology, and another one in scriptwriting. I don’t know that one learns scriptwriting in an academic setting, though. It seems more something you learn by just writing them, and maybe workshops and private classes and tutorials. As a professor’s daughter, the urge to get more letters after my name was imprinted early, but I’ve resisted it all my life because academia feels too cut off from regular life, and I know I learn best by the seat of my own pants. Still, I wonder if it would open doors…

We finally watched Volver last night—good movie! (Though I still like All About My Mother best.) Penelope Cruz is such a dish, absolutely ravishing, funny, sexy, and down-to-earth. Now I want to rent The Wire because Tony Kushner raved about it in an advertisement in The New Yorker.

I had a nice long talk with my darling Carla today—what’s great is that our conversation ranges from the deep and emotional—what do you want to do before you die? How do we shut down or open up in the face of deep feeling? –to the raucously funny, to the topical—How about that Iowa caucus? This whole journey with her and ALS is—or can be—an amazing lesson about feeling deeply and letting go. Moments of fear or grief (or in my case, numbness and denial) come up, but so do moments of tenderness, and often, Carla being Carla, deep humor.

Meanwhile I notice how when other people cry I shut down. Other people at the meeting cried—even the men cried—but I didn’t. Instead I went home and wept on C’s shoulder. Which caused him to start weeping in empathy—he cries more easily than I do—and then we both laughed because we were wiping our noses on each other’s shirts.

Two last words: pomegranate wine. From Armenia. Delicious.

Friday, January 04, 2008

A well-organized group of women and men motivated by love is a magnificent thing to behold, scary in its primal ferocity and devotion. Granted, we should live in a country where if someone gets a serious illness they do not have to worry about disability insurance, medical expenses, the expenses of orthotics, or having to work when they are sick to maintain their benefits. We should live in a sane society where people can live and die secure in the knowledge that their basic needs will be met whether they can work at regular jobs or not.

But since we don't, as yet, live in such a country, thank God for love, which pulls gifts of service and devotion out of us which we didn't know we had.

Last night I sat in the circle, humbled by the skills and willingness of the mostly women and a few men around me, Carla's support group. People had thought of everything, from getting her a health advocate to funding a trip to Mexico so she can boogie board with her son while she's able. Carla and her 15-year-old son had made individualized T-shirts for everyone in the "Driving Miss Crazy" support group with our face silkscreened next to Carla's. Mine is bright burgundy, my favorite color, and sexy and low-cut the way I like. Every other person's was an appropriate cut and color for them. Carla also had a T-shirt made for her ex which reads, "My estranged wife got ALS and all I got was this fucking T-shirt," which perfectly captured one amng many of the supreme ironies of the situation.

Laughter and tears. There's been a lot of both. Right now it's storming outside and I'm so grateful C doesn't have to go to work, but can stay in and annoy me by reminding me to clean up the dresser top on my side of the bed, repository for old coffee cups, glasses of water, half-empty bottles of medication, and assorted earrings, pennies, and stray buttons.

I am caught between the mundanities of life--extra cups of coffee, cleaning the room, trying to finish the plays and the essay I started, and the hugeness of this thing I cannot put my arms around.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Gray day outside, and C is off to Juvenile Hall to visit some of his kids. We went to the deYoung Museum yesterday in Golden Gate Park to see the Louise Nevelson exhibit. Austere assemblages, painted mostly all black or all white. I was struck by a huge wedding display she did at age sixty. In the program notes she said it did not relate to her own failed marriage of thirty years before, but "a wedding with the world." I think that's what all poets and artists strive to achieve, a wedding with the world, but it's not always easy. The world frequently leaves the toilet seat up and socks on the floor. The world is demanding and capricious. Nevertheless.

Came home and I got out the paints C had given me for Chanukah and painted some feet floating in the air with vines coming off them. I was thinking of Carla's precious feet, how they are weighted down by this ALS thing, and the feet of those who fly in dreams but are connected to earth by green tendrils.

We've been watching movies lately: Breach, with Chris Cooper and Ryan Philippe, very good, Hollywoodland last night with Ben Affleck and Adrian Brody, less good, but God, I love Adrian Brody's face! It's so rare that you see a real Jewish face in Hollywood, with a nose that long, and eyes that sensitive and intelligent! I was tranfixed by his face, but the movie was annoyingly opaque; we kept having to pause it and ask each other, "Did you understand what he said?" "No, I didn't either, but I'm sure it will all be explained in the Special Features." God bless Special Features; that's why I love DVDs.

I found out that See How We Almost Fly is a finalist in one of the contests I sent it to back in September. It's been a finalist several times now, which means I am definitely getting warmer. If it wins, I'll have to withdraw Sustain from the contests I entered it in as there is so much overlap between them. I am inching forward on the Marie Antoinette play and the gym essay. Speaking of which, it's time to go swim.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Carla sent out an email titled "life goes on" which said she is performing January 11 at The Hillside Club, 2286 Cedar St. in Berkeley. I urge everyone reading this, if you are within shouting distance of the Bay Area, please come. She has a delicious, sexy, clean, flexible alto voice that she can do pretty much anything with, and she sings with complete soul and committment. Now more than ever.

I made black-eyed peas for good luck this new year. It's a recipe I got from my friend Rebecca Chekouras, which I shamelessly adulterated over her strict injunctions to keep the Southern tradition from whence it sprang pure and simple. My apologies, but I think my additions taste good.

The recipe: soak a bunch of black-eyed peas overnight. Rinse. Put in a big pot with water to cover. Fry up a mess of bacon. Drain. Throw into the pot with the simmering peas and a couple of bay leaves. Crushed farlic and minced chive, salt and pepper. That is Rebecca's recipe. She would say: Serve it with hot sauce over white rice. I cooked it that way last year and it was good.

This year I added four tomatoes, a handfull of kale from the garden
(cut up,) a green Bell pepper and a red pepper, thinly sliced. G came over and ate a bowl and pronounced it very good. C ate two bowls, which is eloquent testimony. David and Libby had some, and if truth be told I had two bowls myself, and we're almost done with a huge pot I thought we'd be stuck with for weeks. I like having a big pot of something so we can just dish ourselves up some food whenever we feel hungry. I just don't know how to cook for less than six people--occupational hazard of growing up in a large family.

I read on-line that it is considered good luck if the first person to cross your threshold in the new year is a dark-haired man. It didn't say a big black bald man, but if G had any hair, it would be dark, so I'm going to call it a good luck year.

C's in his study, wrestling with composing music to go with a lyric I wrote him for Chanukah. I'm flipping back and forth between the Marie Antoinette play and the essay about the gym. I played tennis for an hour or two with G. We were both missing a lot--slow reflexes, plus wind, plus my hair kept falling in my eyes and I forgot my sunglasses. Towards the end we improved to the point of near-mediocrity, then his knee started hurting and we packed it in.

In 2008, I want a cure for ALS and an agent.