Thursday, February 28, 2008

Yesterday I went into Juvenile Hall with C and taught two classes of poetry. I brought in the Chinese Oath of Friendship, which involves swearing a vow of loyalty "forever and ever, until all the mountains are flat and the rivers all run dry." The language is simple--about a second or third grade reading level--but the concept of loyalty and different ways to express a long long infinite time I thought would be relevant. And I brought in a Forest Hamer poem, "Initiation," about being jumped into a gang.

The first class was too disruptive to get much done, although we did manage to brainstorm two whiteboards full of different ways to express "forever and ever." My personal favorites were "until Kobe Bryant start passoing the ball," and "until Jesus and the Devil have a child."

But their idea of real poetry is rap, that rhymes, and soon they started reciting long tracts of it, out of which I caught the words "nigga" and "motherfucka" about a million times. Their mastery of the repertoire was impressive; they had every gesture, every syllable memorized, pages and pages of it, like the bards of old. They could have gone on reciting and rapping all day, for as long as we let them, and never run out of material.

Faced with this, I didn't know exactly what to do. I was impressed by their command of the form, and at the same time it all seemed rotely memorized to me, and as if they were just repeating certain stock phrases, mostly having to do with violence, over and over. I wanted to find a way to co-create some kind of poetry with them that could incorporate that culture but expand its vocabulary. I didn't find it on this visit, but I'm not discouraged. It would be crazy to think I could figure that out in one session, when it should be a joint effort, me and them together. Unfortunately the teacher didn't have the greatest rapport with the class, and so they were already jumpy and aggressive when we started.

After that class was over, C and I repaired back to his cubicle, got on his computer and found a couple of good poems by Kevin Young: including "Black Cat Blues." We brought them in to the second class which began on a better note as I was a little less nervous and took the time to introduce myself and meet them properly. They seemed to really like the Young poems, when a crash and shouting next door made all the guards and counselors jump to attention. There was a big fight; a kid had gotten back from his court date and it hadn't gone well for him. Another kid said something and he lunged.

Guards and counselors streamed into the room; our kids, who were jumping out of their seats and craning their necks trying to see the fight, were told to stand with their hands behind their backs, and everyone was marched back to their own rooms, under close supervision. Class was over for the day. C took me out for a BLT, and we processed the day. No one could call it a howling success, but it hadn't been a complete failure either. A couple of kids had paid attention, asked questions, engaged. We'd found some material they liked. I was beginning to see what the challenges were and I was not in despair.

(Today of course I went to the elementary school where the third graders clamor to show me their poems, so there was balance.)

I finished Rewrites. Neil Simon rewrote his first play that was ever on Broadway more than 25 times. Completely rewrote it, top to bottom, in the era before computers. He went through so much grief just to get the thing produced, including bad reviews, thin audiences, self-doubt, and producers wanting to close the show after a few nights. They started giving tickets away in a desperate attempt to spread word-of-mouth.

When he returned to his study to write his next play, he bought a dart board and spent four months doing nothing but playing games of darts with himself. He lied to his wife and told her he was working. I can't tell you how encouraging I find all this information. It makes me feel like I might have a chance after all.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Neil Simon's book Rewrites had me glued to the couch all morning, after I'd finished revising an essay I've been playing with, off and on, for a couple of months. It's not War and Peace, but it's compelling. I have not had a fraction of the success that Simon has, but I found myself nodding when he described play openings as painful rather than pleasurable. Everyone expects you, the playwright, to be flooded with delight and joy, but the real feelings are a lot more mixed, including anxiety, shame, embarrassment, depression, and a desire to hide under the bed. And this is when things are going well.

I sometimes feel like that when I have a big piece coming out--The Sun is going to publish a 2,500 word essay of mine in April, and I'm already cringing in anticipation. Is this a neurosis, or is it simply a fact of life that the smaller things really are more satisfying?

It moves me when someone tells me that something I've written has brought them pleasure or peace. When I say something funny and Carla throws back her head and laughs. I love it when my Dad cried at my play. It's deeply satisfying when C comes up to me from behind, puts his arms around my waist and nuzzles my neck. I get a glow from swimming, from working in the yard, or even playing tennis--and I'm a mediocre player at best. But opening night at the theatre? I try to imagine what it would be like to have a play on Broadway. I'd be terrified of the reviews, I think, and also scared that the producers would lose money.

Then why write the things? I don't know, I like it when people laugh or cry--I like to watch actors grab ahold of the thing, chew it up, and make it better than it ever was by infusing it with their own life-force. And I still have so many ideas!

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we watched the Bourne Conspiracy last night--Conspiracy or Supremacy I can't remember which one. I think it was the last one in the trilogy, because Bourne discovered his true identity and the bad guys were brought to justice. Lots of things blew up, which delighted C who kept insisting that we rewind so that he could study a multi-car crash again. And again. As usual I most enjoyed the special features, where they show you all the incredible hard work, with an army of 500 technicians and staff, to make those things blow up realistically, and to shoot the actors without killing them.

I also re-started Wangari Maathi's Unbowed, which is a gripping and beautiful book, and much more important than any of the other stuff I've been blathering about here. And now to clear green waste from the yard, fill up the green bin, and wait for Carla to come home. I hope she's enjoying fair winds as she boogie boards with Maclen in Mexico. I hope she comes home salty and contented and glowing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Yesterday we went to Juvenile Hall, to visit one of C's students who never gets visitors. I don't know where this kid's mother is, but his father has four or five other children, and, I think, a car that doesn't work.

C had baked a batch of chocolate chip cookies and we took some. It was a chance for me to look around and get acclimated before I go in with him on Wednesday. The grounds are new and light, with lots of great art around--sculptures, murals. But the inside rooms smell of teenage boy sweat and strong disinfectant cleanser.

C's student came out of his room rubbing his eyes. His face fell for a moment when he saw us. His father had promised him that he would visit this week, and again he was disappoiunted not to see his dad.

We sat and talked for a little while at a picnic table. D is small for his age, shy and soft-spoken. He likes to play football. As C says about so many of his students, "They're not criminals. They're just the kid in the back seat of a stolen car, in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people because they don't have anywhere else to be."

I'm so mad that Ralph Nader has announced his candidacy for President again. Doesn't he have anything better to do? Every time I feel like I'm wasting my life, not using my time well, I think, at least I'm not Ralph Nader, siphoning off liberal votes away from the Democratic Party. Hopefully, he'll have no effect on this year's election.

I was bummed to miss the Academy Awards last night, but essay class was wonderful--two poignant moving essays and very good discussions. It's such a sweet, mature, thoughtful bunch of students.

C is going to try and contact D's father Wednesday, and drive him up to the Hall if necessary.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Watched 8 Mile last night with Ruth and C. Hey, it's only taken me fifteen years to get on the rap bandwagon. I gained fresh insight and respect for the art form of rap. A good thing, since I volunteered to teach some poetry classes at Juvenile Hall where C works...and I'm nervous. Will I be able to find the right material to reach these kids? How can I go with their culture and grow their literacy and comfort with the written word at the same time.

I think that poetry could be a fantastic medium for them to practice--it's shorter and in many ways easier than prose. I think I need to relax my anti-rhyme stance, but at the same time I want to teach them something about imagery, and using language for different purposes.

In the film, the aspiring rappers did "battle" with each other, each one striving to cap the other in witty rhjyming insults and narrative. In that way, their poems resembled more narrative ballads than the kind of lyrical image-driven work I write. But when I was first discovering poetry as a kid, I loved those ballads that told a story like "The Highwayman" like Alfred Noyes, which totally fired my imagination. I could bring in Langston Hughes. I could bring in some of the prison poetry I got from Judith T., my friend who taught poetry at San Quentin for years.

This will be exciting and nerve-wracking. I'm psyched. And I'bve also been assiduously avoiding the rewrite of the Marie Antoinette play for weeks now.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Yesterday in the teacher's room, there was a discussion of boys and war imagery that segued into talk of fathers, brothers and sons who served or are serving in the military. I just listened with my ears open. So much to chew on for the musical.

Then last night I went over my friend Jill Nagle's house for a reading of her new screenplay. It was fantastic! Interesting, complicated situation, a psychological thriller, original insight probing people's vulnerabilities. She did twenty-two drafts of it--twenty-two drafts. That's the thing about critics. It's easy to criticize. What's hard is to hold on and keep the faith for twenty-two drafts or as long as it takes.

Today, Ruth's birthday, we went hikinbg in the hills during a break between rains. The grass was sparkling and we saw turkey vultures dipping low and circling over us, looking for food. The acacia trees are blooming yellow all over the county with their mild spicy smell. One of C's students made a propaganda pster extolling his virtues as a teacher. I'm prouder than if he had won the Pulitzer.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

True confession--not pretty--but true. I was relieved to read the New Yorker review of Crimes of the Heart where the reviewer spent the first seven hundred words basically trashing Beth Henley, who won the Pulitzer Prize for that play back in 1981. Why? Not because of schadenfreude, but simple reassurance--if a Pulitzer Prize- winning play can get so thoroughly criticized and its playwright so denigrated in the pages of the all-important New Yorker, that means if I and my little first play got trashed in the Detroit Free Press that it's all part of the biz.

And now, thank you, I will go train to be a genetics counselor, so that I can earn real money and see people all day and not be stuck in this little teapot of writing where tempests arise regularly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Friday night C and I celebrated our one-year anniversary with a fancy dinner at a good French restaurant--hors d'oeuvres, a cocktail, and we split a dessert. All out. I got a little drunk on one margarita. I'm usually content with just making salad and throwing some chicken in it for dinner at home, with a glass of wine on the side, but I have to admit, there was something magical about candlelight, nice tablecloths, atmosphere, and delicious expensive food. Once in a while.

Then we went to hear Carla sing at Anna's Jazz Island--it was wonderful. C was especially taken by the bass player and the pianist she had backing her up. I got a chance to meet her parents--in her mother's case, to re-meet her. We hugged and gushed about Carla, who was sexy in a black camiusole and see-through black lace top over that, and who sang like a clear-eyed angel. The place was full, and C and I perched at the bar. Another new thing--we don't often go out to hear music together. There's a continual opportunity for re-discovery in a long-term relationship--oh yeah, we did this at the very beginning when we were just starting to date, but since then so much real life has rushed in that we forgot about those other luxurious sides of ourselves.

Saturday night I participated in a Malawi Wowee night at Interplayce--I read some of the poems I wrote about the Malawi trip. Lots of people who had been on that trip were there, so it had a special resonance--when I read "Eating Lake Flies," folks were there who could visualize exactly what I was talking about, the smoky funnel of flies thickly clustered around the porchlight, the laughing girl with the basket who dared us to taste her "fly patties."

Sunday morning's NY Times Magazine section was all about the power of play, so I called Cynthia up and told her about it. Researchers are studying the effects of play on children and young mice and rats--does it have a survival purpose? Does it help develop creativity and intelligence? The drive to play is so strong in young humans that even in Nazi concentration camps, little children found things to play with. I remembered the kids in Malawi playing with an empty tin of shoe polish, an old bicycle tire rim and a stiff straw for a hoop and stick. Kids don't need fancy toys, although they like them. They can make play objects out of anything around them.

Sunday afternoon we went to see Walkin Talkin Bill Hawkins; My Search for my Father, a play by my and Carla's friend W. Allen Taylor at Afro Solo (762 Fulton St., in San Francisco.) It's an amazing show, about the early days of black radio, and Allen's search to learn more about the father he never knew. It's still playing for two more weeks--go see it! The url is

This show was a benefit for Carla, so many of her friends were there--it was very emotional. First time I ever saw Allen cry while doing his show. I love one-man and one-woman shows--the energy and artistry and audacity of one person to stand up and hold an entire audience for ninety minutes while playing all the parts. Allen is especially affecting (to my mind) when he plays women--his mother, and another older lady who had worked with his father. He also played himself as a child, as a teenager, and as a young man, and he played his father's cronies, and he played some of the men who were surrogate father-figures to him. All in all, amazing.

C had wanted to mount and hook up his new beautiful speakers, so in and around all this cultural activity, he managed to find time to do so. I taught my class Sunday night at The Writing Salon, where somehow, in that weird synchronicity, several of my students are writing about death and grief. In truth, I was pretty beat by the time I got to class.

Monday we went to Michael's, a craft store, and bought a bunch of Velcro (it comes in many shapes, sizes, and degrees of toughness--who knew?) and then over to Carla's to see how we could help make it stick onto her boogie board and then onto the glove she'll wear. It's just a small modification, but hopefully it will help her stay more balanced and stable on her board when she's out riding the waves next week with Mac. It was good to see her, if just for a minute, and then I rushed out to Wing It! practice while C kept working on his beloved speakers. A full weekend--we crawled into bed at 10--and a good one, and today a morning full of chill gray rain.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Down at the tennis courts by the lake with G. A bright sunny day. We hadn't played for weeks and weeks, both of us were rusty. The only other person there was a white-haired little Chinese man, Master Chang, a tennis coach, who was waiting for his student.

G and I hit balls back and forth to each other. There was a high wind, and both the tennis balls he had in his pocket were elderly and tired, but we were having a good time. Wallup, wallup, rrun, scream. The coach watched us, and as his student didn't show, he jumped in and started giving us a free lesson.

"Return to neutral, like so," he scolded me. "Both hands on racket in between shots. You hold it all the time with one arm, arm get tired." It was true, but hard to practice. He ordered G to my side of the net, then he played against both of us. He could actually control the ball, choose where it landed. Amazing.

After we'd played for about an hour, he pulled out a portfolio and showed us his photos. He'd been tennis coach to the stars. There was a young tall, handsome athletic Christopher Reeve, shaking hands with Master Chang, whose hair was still black. there was a young Dustin Hoffman. There was Walt Frazier, the basketball star, seven feet tall, and Master Chang next to him, all five feet four inches of him.

"You come next week, I give you another lesson. Buy some new balls," he told us. He told us we both had potential to be good players.

"I suck," I said.

"No!" he insisted. "You have good eye. Powerful swing. You can do it. Hand--eye--good!" No one has ever accused me of having good hand-eye coordination before, so that was very gratifying.

"We'll come back next Thursday!" we promised. Already I can feel my game getting better.

This morning I've been sitting inj front of the computer since 8:30 a.m. One poem, and the revisions to Saying Kaddish. I've spent little time actually writing--most of it has been procrastinating. What a waste. I'm going down to the computer store to get parental controls put on my computer so that I can block the website It's my worst habit.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

My friend Cynthia Winton-Henry sent me the following from a wonderful poem by Rupert Brooke called "The Great Lover."

"These I have loved:

White plates and cups, clean-gleaming,

Ringed with blue lines; and feathery, faery dust;

Wet roofs, beneath the lamp-light; the strong crust

Of friendly bread; and many-tasting food;

Rainbows; and the blue bitter smoke of wood;

And radiant raindrops couching in cool flowers;

And flowers themselves, that sway through sunny hours,

Dreaming of moths that drink them under the moon;

Then, the cool kindliness of sheets, that soon

Smooth away trouble; and the rough male kiss

Of blankets; grainy wood; live hair that is

Shining and free; blue-massing clouds; the keen

Unpassioned beauty of a great machine;

The benison of hot water; furs to touch;

The good smell of old clothes; and other such--

The comfortable smell of friendly fingers,

Hair's fragrance, and the musty reek that lingers

About dead leaves and last year's ferns. . . . "


I love the poem for the gritty little details, the intimacy, the naming. I can't get my arms around love. It's too big. I can only talk about the sweetest smallest things: C bringing me coffee in the morning, our hour together before he goes off to work, watching the sun rise through the windows and eating and having breakfast in bed, talking quietly.

It's not the roses and chocolates. It's not being perfect. It's being ,messy and imperfect, and wrestling with the sticks and thorns in the front yard, the scheduling and bills, and laughing about it all, finding something in it always to laugh together about...

Yesterday, I ran a few errands with Carla. She is going to Mexico soon, to ride the waves with her boy while she still can. We shopped for bathing suits, the activity which only a potentially fatal illness can truly put into perspective (just kidding! Kidding!) We looked all over, had fun in chi chi little stores with wonderful sales. I bought a pair of black pants made out of hemp, and a cute, gauzy reversible skirt for only five dollars. Carla found some sweet things too, but no bathing suit. Then I remembered I had some new ones in the trunk of my car, and one of them--a little black maillot--fit her pretty well. Score!

By the way, not that I'm keeping track of points or anything, but she agrees with me completely: the fact that I sat through Norbit the other night with C (not only did I watch it with him, I went out and bought it for him, how cool of a girlfriend does that make me?) earns me not one but TWO chick flick evenings from him.

I have been buying tons and tons of movies lately; there's a store called Silver Screen video that always has lots of great used ones on sale and it's only a dollar or two more to buy them than it would be to rent them--and considerably less than to watch them in a theatre. I feel guilty about this, because I know the whole dvd thing is killing small movie theatres--and I do love them, with their smells of old popcorn, their worn red carpets with squashed kernels underneath--but I'm also addicted to the "Special features" on DVDs.

The other night we watched The Last King of Scotland, which was magnificent. I loved the central relationship between the two men--it was seductive, without being overtly erotic. And they were both brilliant--Forest Whitaker and James MacAvoy.

Norbit was a slightly less elevated viewing experience, but I loved watching the special features, seeing how Eddie Murphy gets into each role with the help of fat suits, prosthetic teeth, wigs, make-up, etc. It's an incredibly involved process; the make-up is an art form unto itself. He plays an elderly balding Chinese man in Norbit and completely disappears into the part.

Then last night a convening of the Libra Girls to celebrate all of our recent and upcoming adventures--a half-marathon, job change, possible trip to Macchu Piccu, and my opening in Detroit. They made me tell the story--every detail--and laughed and cried with me. And remembered for me, how long I worked on this play, Saying Kaddish (which still is waiting final revisions,) and how much faith it took to come this far. Meanwhile, my friend Tim and I are forging ahead, making a radio play out of the hot tub drama. I may or may not play the female is great, I won't have to wear a bathing suit.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Carla posted it on her blog, so I can write about it here--there is some hope!!! Real hope--it feels as warm and life-giving as the unseasonable sunshine we're getting here--seventy lovely degrees, and the cherry blossoms fit to burst on the pink trees.

A study in Italy seems to show that small doses of lithium can be effective in slowing down the progression of ALS, and preventing death. It's not a cure--it's not even definitive yet. The study is only on about fifteen patients, and has only been going on for 18 months, but the results were so dramatic and surprising that the researchers put the control group, who were receiving a placebo, on the lithium, because it would be unethical not to.

It's not a cure, but it buys time until we get a president who will put stem-cell research on the front burner. It's a ray of hope, and I am bathing in it.

(For more detailed information, see Carla's blog at .)

I've felt kind of raw and vulnerable since returning from Detroit. I know I "should" be basking in feelings of success, but I am finding the playwriting biz stressful. There's money involved, for one thing--not money that I see in my checking account, but big money for production costs. And unlike poetry, where it's perfectly acceptable to hide out in your study in your sweatpants, it seems like playwrights are supposed to Show Up at things--like early rehearsals--and have opinions, and know something.

Plus, the subject matter and the language of my play--some people like it, some don't. That's what it is to be out there in the world, some people are going to love what you do, others won't, and it's not my job to read everyone's mind or make everyone understand me and like me. It's just my job to teach my classes and do my revisions and make lasagna.

Yesterday I volunteered with SF Connect. I thought I'd be planting trees, and thus advancing towards the goal of fifty trees planted by my fiftieth birthday, but instead ended up just weeding around tree basins in the city. It was great though--I learned about an organization called the League of Urban Gardeners and Arbor Day, and met some nice folk, and most importantly was just out in the fresh air and balmy sunshine. Funny, I'd passed those city trees a million times and never noticed them--but of course they need weeding and tending and care. Everything does. I have mostly been about creation and destruction in my life so far. Middle age seems a fitting time to learn about preservation.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

First bad review, in a Detroit paper (the Jewish paper in Detroit gave us much love.) Actually, the review was not all bad--the critic liked the individual performances and conceded there were many good things about the play, before trashing the ending-- but the headline makes it sound like a complete hatchet job.

I found out about it while talking to K, my new mentor. (I asked, and she accepted. "I'll be your big sister," she joked, "even though I'm short and you're ten feet tall." It's true--I towered over the Detroit Jews like a skyscraper.)

She told me she has gotten bad reviews too--it comes with the territory of being out in the wider world. Not one of the more fun parts. And that's the thing; the mother in my play has a line she delivers to her younger daughter: "Family life is not all it's cracked up to be." Nothing is all it's cracked up to be. Not family life, not career success, not "being a real professional playwright," none of it.

But the flip side of that is that things which are not cracked up to be so special can be innately satisfying. I just spent forty-five minutes clearing detritus from the front yard--all the stuff we clipped during our mad gardening day. I chopped it up with the new gardening loppers and filled the green bin. A former student of mine walked by and noticed what I had done and said, "You're getting there." And I am. One more week, one more recycling pick-up, and all the stuff will be cleared.

It takes no special skill to chop up pieces of rose bushes and get them into the green bin. But it was intensely satisfying to work with my body and just do something natural and non-controversial after the hothouse of theatrical production, the focus on ego and pleasing people, the worries about my words being right or wrong.

It was just me and the clippers and the brush. I was thinking about Heath Ledger. I remember his performance in Brokeback Mountain astounded me. I read how bad his insomnia was, how none of the meds he was taking for it were really helping and I felt for him. I've had intractable insomnia at other periods in my life--not so much now--and it was awful. I felt so exhausted I wanted to die, and he actually did die. I wondered if he could have gotten his hands in some dirt, done a Habitat for Humanity type project, just gardened or constructed a house or something simple and physical like that, if it would have helped.

Anyway, the conversation with K was illuminating--I'm finally ready to look at one of the stubbornest issues of the play, the Deus Ex Machina in the next to last scene, which the reviewer put his finger on as a glaring problem. Rahel doesn't really soften or give any evidence of changing before her final 180 degree about face. I wish I could have realized this sooner, but I didn't--all I can do now is make the script as good as I can and then send it out again.

As Carla said, my attitude about all this has to be unconditional. Not that I can't respond to criticism of my work, revise, feel frustrated or sad or anxious, get excited, whatever. But if my attitude is, I want to learn whatever I'm supposed to learn from this experience rather than Broadway Or Bust, then it will be a richer more worthwhile experience. Because I'm sure even Broadway isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I had another screaming nightmare last night. I have them about once a month or so--haven't really tracked how frequently. C woke up and comforted me. He said I yelled really loudly. I remember in my dream I was enraged. Detroit jogged some trauma stuff for me and it's time to find a somatic therapist who can work with me around PTSD as well. I HATE being in therapy--spending all that money just to talk to someone about issues that I always think I could process with friends or with myself or just put into my work--but so much has gone on this year, I can't process it on my own anymore. My sensitive system is just overloaded. It's not even the nightmares that bother me most. It's more the feelings of numbness and disassociation I feel when I'm stressed.

I have been doing my work, but not feeling ultimately all that connected to it. Maybe there's just too much; besides Kaddish, i completed three other plays last year, one long one-act, one short one-act and one full-length, as well as a couple of major and a couple of short essays. I just found out that the short one-act, about Marie Antoinette, will get a reading at the end of April. And luckily I trust the director, Stuart Bousel, will do a great job, and there will be no unnecessary emotional drama involved.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Back in Oakland. Palm trees instead of snow. Bright sunshine through the windows of my study where C installed new French doors for me while I was away, as a surprise. Nursing a cup of coffee, the remnants of a head cold and the last shreds of jet lag.

Saying good-bye to the kids in Massachusetts is always wrenching. My seven-year-old nephew borrowed his mother's cell phone and stood outside on the cold and dark platform for ten minutes, talking and waving to me while I sat inside the train, talking and waving back. They didn't leave until after I had pulled out.

And Miss Thing, my brother's four-year-old daughter, who is slow to warm up to new people, played and played with me. We get each other. Same cock-eyed originality, same fierce stubbornness, same sense of humor. It doesn't hurt that she looks just like me--even my sister-in-law's mother says so.

When I was kissing everyone good-bye at the door, she ran back into the den. I followed her, where she sat on the floor, absorbed in a toy. Squatted down next to her and asked for a kiss. She offered her cool little cheek. I was at the doorway when I heard a small voice: "I wonder when you'll be coming back. I think I'm gonna miss you."

Me too, Miss Thing, I miss you too.

Dad and my stepmother and I flew out early to Detroit, where ten inches of snow were predicted on Friday, but mercifully did not fall. There was some snow--by California standards a lot of snow--but not the paralyzing blizzard we had feared. C arrived a few hours later, looking fairly worn-out from exhaustion and travel, and we had a nice dinner with his brother and sister-in-law at our hotel.

C and I had both been a little nervous about our families meeting each other--would they like each other? Would there be too many cultural differences? Would dinner be unbearably awkward? But no, my globetrotting stepmother fell in love with his hearth-tending family and there was a lot of talk and laughter. C's sister-in-law, Speedy, had knitted me an ice-blue scarf as a "Welcome to Michigan" present, which I put on and did not take off for the remainder of our visit.

We went to Saturday's afternoon perfomance of Kaddish. Masankho flew in from San Diego where he'd been studying Spanish and arrived at the last moment. It was like a family reunion to see him.

There was a good audience! I was so glad because the bigger the audience, the better the actors do; they feed off the energy. Dad and my stepmother started tearing up as soon as we arrived in the lobby and saw the posters for the play with my name on them, and the photos of the actors on the walls, and the reviews (two reviews, both good, and an interview with me in the Jewish newspaper.) It was good. The actor who plays the mother is getting better, although my family also felt she was the weakest link. It's too bad, because after the New York show in 2006 I came away convinced that she was in fact the main character, the one whose changes are the fulcrum of the play, the one who is in the most scenes.

I listened hard all through the play for any lines that could leap out at me that would make good alternative titles, but I didn't hear one. I will rewrite Lydia's performance art monologue and maybe something will come from that.

At the end of the play my father was crying. My stepmother said she had never seen him cry that much since she met him. I just held him and hugged him. He is so precious to me and I am so grateful we were given this much time to make a circle back.

We flew home Sunday and I taught at the Writing Salon that night, with the help of several cups of strong black tea. I was running on fumes and had a head cold, but the class went well--it's a great class, and in a rare burst of foresight I had prepared the lesson two weeks earlier. Yesterday I was slammed though, just hit with a wall of fatigue. I didn't manage to get out of my pajamas until about one in the afternoon.

I did call Carla to talk; she wanted to know how the show went, every detail. Reassured me that audience numbers and money are not what make a show a success. She had had her appointment for a second opinion while I was gone. I know, because we had talked about it, that like me, she had been hoping against hope that the ALS specialist would say, "There's been a big mistake. You don't have ALS. You have xyz, any other curable or livable disease." That's not what happened. The eminent specialist ran more tests and said that "in his heart of hearts," he thought she did have ALS.

There's still hope, of course--there's always hope. Hope that she may be among the percentage whose symptoms arrest at an early stage; hope that he's wrong; any and all kinds of hope. But what Carla said to me, when I gently tried to express sympathy about his confirmation of her diagnoisis was, "My positive attitude cannot be conditional upon results." It's one of the most profound lessons I've ever heard, so I'll repeat it here, for my own learning: My positive attitude cannot be conditional upon results.

Unconditional love--that's the thing we're all striving for, isn't it? Here it is, in action. Unconditional love for herself, for life, for whatever comes. Whether it results in a remission of her symptoms or an early death. "I have to just pray that I learn whatever I'm supposed to learn from this." Meanwhile, she's buring a boogie board tomorrow in preparation for her trip to Mexico.

I'm still at my desk, facing the final galleys for the essay I wrote that's going to be out in April's Sun magazine--today's the last day I can input any changes--and I need to get back to the dramaturg I met in Detroit and talk about revisions to Kaddish with her (I didn't want to do it yesterday because I was too foggy.)

On the plane coming back I read most of Philip Roth's Ghost Writer, and finished it up this morning--it's a wonderful novella. I had never read much of Roth before, except for long excerpts of the novel about Sabbath Somebody which were published in The New Yorker--this was great, although hardly an advertizement for the writing life. Old, grizzled, anti-social, chronically dyspeptic writer shut up in a New England cottage with drifts of snow outside writing, writing, and not living...that's one of his main characters, and the other one is Nate Zuckerman, an aspiring young writer who wants to be just like him. From what I've read about Roth's current life, it seems he has achieved that goal. I hope it makes him happy. It sounds hellish to me. But the book is beautiful, whimsical, rounded and rueful, so maybe that's what it costs. Is the bargain worth it--life for art? That's the question Roth seems to be asking.

Last night we watched Quest for Fire, an old movie C had mentioned several times to me, so I bought it for his birthday. It's remarkable--the most faithful depiction of what human life might have been like 80,000 years ago that the filmmaker (and the scholar-consultants he hired) could come up with. I was impressed with the egoless performance of Rae Dawn Chong, who totally became this naked creature loping through the tall grass, using her whole body freely and without affectation to convey every emotion.

The movie brought us back to imagining what kinds of ancestral memories must lie encoded in our brains and bodies: abject terror, the necessity for warmth and companionship because we needed each other to survive. (There was only one character in the whole movie with any white in his hair--most people would have died before our age, of hunger, or wild beasts, or in an accident, or childbirth.

The movie centers around fire, the hearth, the beginnings of story-telling. Having just come back from seeing my little play mounted in a $40,000 production (and hoping desperately that they will recoup that investment--the house was not full, and they were running a two for one sale, so they are not making much on it,) it was good to be reminded of the origins of theatre, and of language itself.

Best of all has been C and I reuniting--it had been a ragged week for our relationship. He was preoccupied with the project of the French doors, and keeping it a secret, so couldn't be totally present when I called from Detroit in nervous distress. And he is, at heart, a hearth-tender, so it was stressful and exhausting for him to travel alone to Detroit, with a weather advisory posted, after working hard all week, when he would really rather be puttering and playing music. Over the weekend I was feeling uncharacteristically out-of-sync with him, which troubled me; when we finally got home and I saw the beautiful beautiful doors, and how he'd labored to give me a snug warm place in which to write, I understood.

And now we're back in our sweet routine; the cat pads onto the bed, wadded-up kitty litter caught in her paws; she nestles down in the covers, purring loudly. We take turns serving each other food and coffee and water and wine, do household chores, take out the garbage, unload the groceries, read together in bed at night. Morning and he's off teaching kids at Juvenile Hall, and I'm facing the usual desk full of projects to revise and emails to return. And life resumes.