Monday, April 28, 2008

Saturday night we went to see Carla's show at College of Marin, called War and Peacemeal. It was an eclectic mixture of improv, musical theatre, Greek tragedy, spoken word/rap, video, and a bunch of other stuff. Maclen, her fifteen-year-old son, wrote great chunks of the show, memorized every word he wrote, and performed it all with total committment.

I am too close to the drama off-stage to be able to see the drama onstage with a pure vision. In the archetypal hero's journey search for Peace--who is standing right there, embodied in a living statue--I can read Carla's own search for inner peace as she walks through the raging fires of fear and grief. In her including her son so intimately as a collaborator in this process, I can see her teaching him in every way she knows--and being an artist, through art--about that quest for peace, not to give up, and not to forget to look inside, in the simplest, most obvious place, the place we often overlook.

Maclen moved me more than anyone else onstage--his intensity, and also, in his height, his mop of dark curls, and his body language, he reminded me so much of my dead ex-husband Alan. Alan was 23 when I met him, just seven years older than Mac is now, but he retained a boyish quality well into his thirties. Like Mac, and like Carla, and like C, he always threw himself totally into whatever he was doing, balls-out. I am attracted to people like that, full-on, no-holds-barred committed people, even when that committment extracts a difficult energetic price. And I find it impossible not to be moved by Mac, and by his and Carla's connection, so multi-faceted, strong, and vulnerable; mother-son, teacher-student, fellow-artists.

There was also a missing-parent/lost child theme in the piece; there were scenes that took place in Iraq, and a delightful scene of the gods--Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, and Hanuman, playing video games together. Carla being Carla, there were cheeky, outrageous jokes in very bad taste, there was pushing of the envelope, there was beautiful visual poetry anbd a heartbreaking song which she composed and sang (via audiotape) herself, while two of the actors danced a duet.

We were stunned, moved, amused, aroused, disturbed. As she intended. Carla was there, looking beautiful, if a bit tired. Despite all the jokes about having a fatal illness, I still find it impossible to pierce through my shield of denial. She is way too alive to be dying.

Yesterday, was the celebration of our completion of the 24 hour clourse in women's self-defense. We had regular class for four hours, learned some new techniques to deal with extended fights--if we were fighting someone who was on drugs or psychotic, who didn't have a normal pain threshold-- and techniques against oral rape (hint: bite.) Then our loved ones came and watched us go through the line two times, taking turns fighting the mugger on the mat. Marci and Ellen and C all came; all of them cried (although C said he was trying not to, as he feared it would distract me.)

I felt happy and proud and a little anxious. I hoped my loved ones would be alright--it's more difficult to witness this stuff than it is to be in it. I remember that from watching my girlfriend's graduation, long ago. When you are watching, you have all the adrenaline and no place to put it. You just have to sit there while your body is flooded with chemicals, watching your loved one fight.

I feel much more confident about my technique. My last fight especially, I landed my kicks with a lot of power and precision. It only took about five hard strikes to knock the guy out. I ordered the video so I will get to see myself fighting, and I am sure I will see things there that will make me cringe, but that's okay. It's all just learning.

Graduates can take the class over for half price, and there's also a weekend class that deals with multiple assailants and weapons. If my check from MORE comes in time, I will sign up for that. I've already volunteered to be an assistant at the next Basics. They are looking for male instructor/muggers, so if there are any men reading this blog in the Bay Area who would like to volunteer, they should check out the web site at (I believe the pay is between 25 and 35 dollars an hour, after you've completed your training, plus 200 volunteer hours.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I got told several times what a big kid he was.

"And he's only fourteen."

On the maximum security unit at Juvenile Hall. He didn't have any parents or guardians around to sign off on his Individual Educational Plan (IEP) so C asked me if I would act as his educational surrogate and I went. (C could not do it himself as it would have been a conflict of interest.)

When he shambled into the meeting room, I thought, "He's not that big." Maybe six two, something over two hundred pounds. I have a brother who was that big at that age, and grew to be an even larger man. It's hard to be that big as a teenage boy. Men may measure themselves against you, physically, and feel threatened, when you need them to nurture you. Other guys pick fights, because if they can whup you, they look strong. Women may fear you--the combination of teenage testosterone and physical bulk.

The first time we met he barely met my eyes. He seemed to be wincing when he spoke, just monosyllabic grunts as responses to questions. I was referred to as "Miss Luterman," and I let it stand.

This second time, he was more animated. he laughed and joked with his favorite teachers, math and science, who made a point of attending the meeting so they could say good things about him. After the formalities were over, he came to the point. "Got any cookies?"

"After we're done with the meeting," C told him.

We discussed his strengths and goals. He likes cartooning and yoyos. He wants to grow up to be a professional cartoonist and make a story about his life. I thought of Alison Bechdel and Art Spiegelman and R. Crumb. I wonder if he can do it. He's bright. He's quick. And manipulative. While his caseworker was droning on, he took the papers off her desk and read them himself. He frowned at the health report. "Why it say BP here?" What that mean?"

"Blood pressure," C told him. "Your blood pressure was too high."

"Oh," he said, relieved. "I thought it was Bi-polar or something."

He's smarter and quicker than those of us who have never had to survive on the streets could be, and at the same time more naive and ignorant than a child his age with a family would be, because there are so many ordinary experiences he has never had. What would he be like if he had a father who would shoot baskets with him, or a mother who took him to the art museum? His only blood relative can't visit him because of "substantiated allegations of child abuse." I read it in his report. Of course he'd trade a hundred of us well-meaning pink-faced strangers for a glimpse of her.

When the meeting was over, C tossed him a small bag of chocolate chip cookies. he turned to me. "You got anything for me?"

"One per customer," C said. The kid is diabetic--he shouldn't have sweets anyway, but he craves them.

"I wanted to bring you something sugar-free," I said. He wrinkled his nose in disgust.

"Will you be at my next IEP?" he asked me. He is getting released to a group home soon.

"I hope not," I said. "I never want to see you here again." He looked confused. "I mean, I'll be happy to see you again, but I hope you get out and stay out. I hope you do well at your next school." But who will be his guardian, his surrogate, his advocate? Will it be another one-shot deal stranger, like me? Will he ever be able to permanently attach to someone reliable and stable and safe who has his best interests at heart?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Yesterday was the hardest class yet. They introduced choke holds. As soon as I saw the male instructor's elbow going around the female instructor's windpipe and thought "We're going to have to fight to get out of that?" my adrenaline leapt and my heart started racing. It's a good thing to learn, of course (put your hands on either side of the guy's elbow and pull down, taking his weight with you.) But it set the tone for the day: harder, more serious. And I thought we were fighting hard before!

So i fought harder. I landed a great elbow strike into my instructor's solar plexus--he said it would have knocked him out if he weren't wearing his padded suit. I got clear on the physics of the sideways leg kick, how to uncoil the leg using all my thigh muscles and the muscles in my hips and butt for maximum power. There is still--there will always be--an issue with the slowness of my muscles to fire. I am simply not a surgical strike type of mover. if I were a piece of music I would be played legato. I am flowing and continuous, not sharp and staccato. But fighting demands those kinds of abrupt movements so I am learning. Sometimes my body will do them, sometimes it won't.

At least my issue with dropping to the floor, which worried me last week, somehow magically solved itself. When the instructor blew her whistle like a drill seargant, I was on the floor neatly tucked up, foot in position, surprising myself. It made me smile. I would be the one voted least likely to survive five minutes in the military by anyone who knows me, and here I am doing drills! And loving them!

The teachers also invited us to share a new level of emotional vulnerability when we were asked to come up with "custom scripts"--what were we really fighting? What were we most scared of? For some it was a past abusive relationship, or a current one, an ex-over, a husband, a crazy-making job. For some it was the voice in their head that said they would never be good enough. Some of the toughest women revealed the pain behind their armor. I am not a crier, but I cried when I saw the vulnerable girl-children underneath the powerful kicking and striking.

When it was my turn I fought the fear of my loved ones dying. That is my worst fear. Because I have low blood pressure and take lots of naps, I fear I will lumber along until age 99 while all my nearest and dearest drop dead around me. I don't want to live in this world without the presence of those I love most, and although I believe that the spirit world is also real, and the dead are not really gone from us, I prefer my loved ones clothed in flesh and blood where I can hug them, smell them, talk to them, hold their hands.

I don't know how you fight that one. But when i came home, once again there was a hot bath drawn for me. I poured in a little lavendar oil and sank in and babbled about all this to C who sat on the floor next to the tub and loofah-ed my back. Then dinner and a funny movie. I was tired enough to sleep like the dead, but I couldn't sleep. There was still too much adrenaline going through my system. And today I could hardly move. My elbow hurt, my legs hurt, my hips. I took some aspirin and took a long nap instead of showing up at Wing It! practice. This is deep work.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Last night we went to a benefit for No Nude Men Theatre Company, organized by Stuart Bousel and friends. Three new plays were read; one of them was my Paris Hilton/Marie Antoinette play which I'm currently calling "A Night in Jail." (Lame title, I know.)

The reading went well. Big big laughs from the very cheerful and receptive audience, despite a squeaky fan and not enough chairs. Excellent readings by the cast. Stuart is a man of many gifts--he's a great playwright himself, a wonderful director, an actor, and a producer, and he surrounds himself with mega-talented people of all ages. I am so impressed by the community of folks around No Nude Men Theatre--they all have to have day jobs, as NNM doesn't bring in much revenue, but they are completely professional, dedicated and passionate when it comes to their craft.

I was more than pleased with how the play went over, although as usual, being me, I heard some places I wanted to tweak. I don't want the play just to be making fun of Paris Hilton and her ilk, all the spoiled, self-destructive celebrity brats who are melting down before our eyes...that's like shooting fish in a barrel, it's too easy.

I do want to look a little deeper at the culture of celebrity vs. the culture of ordinary people, issues of class, money, sense of importance, entitlement, self-worth. And history. I wonder how people of the future (if there are any) will look back at us in our historical moment now, and the crap we are obsessed with--is it any better or worse, more or less foolish than the things people have historically been obsessed with--witchcraft, royalty, the earth is flat, the end is near--through the ages. Have people always been dumb and wise, are we getting dumber or wiser these days, or perhaps both. Maybe we are getting dumber and wiser at the same time.

Okay, now I have to go back to cleaning out my closet so we can flea-bomb our room. Dede seems to be licking herself less, which is a hopeful sign, maybe the flea meds are working.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

I'm sitting here with a box of tissues at my elbows, sucking on a Riccola lozenge. Yes, April is the cruellest month. It's the month when I teach twenty classes a week, which is about ten too many, but makes up for other times in the year when no money at all is coming in. It's the month when the weather is a muggy ninety degrees last Sunday, and then a crisp 55 yesterday. It's the month when our house looks like a tornado hit it, because I have piles of file folders everywhere--and there's often a frantic scramble for the perfect one I need before I go off to teach more classes.

Today, in second grade, a learning-disabled boy who can't write at all, and spent most of the period sitting with his hooded oversized sweatshirt pulled over his head so that he looked like a brown tree stump with the word "GAP" written across him, suddenly announced that he wanted to share like the other kids. He got up in front of the class and said, "I want to be your friend until pigs fly/until the clouds turn into mashmallows/until the end of time." Then he sat down. The other kids applauded.

I have to note here that C had to drag me out of bed this morning, by my ankles--parents reading this blog may be reminded of similar scenes with teenagers. He then made me coffee and breakfast--a couple of turkey meatballs and some soycatash. I got to work ten minutes early despite having to fight the urge to take little mini-naps at the red lights. My schedule is not more challenging than most people, but my body doesn't do well with all this running around.

Bad news from the vet today--Dede seems to havre arthritis. She's been limping more and more, licking her shoulder, and yowling piteously. She's in some pain--how much, we can't know.


p.s.: Later, after teaching my Writing Salon class tonight, (great class! I'm excited! And exhausted.) I sped home over the bridge to find C knee-deep in cleaning supplies, mopping and vacuuming. Turns out Dede has fleas. As soon as he told me, I bagan to feel itchy. Anyway, this could explain the licking and biting at herself, and the piteous yowling. He went and got $100.00 worth of flea medicine at the vet, and has been fumigating our bed and the whole house. Life in the shtetl...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Today was our second women's self-defence class. It was sweltering hot--"Bikram fighting," one of the other women called it. The other women are becoming familiar to me, not only through their faces and the bits of their stories they share, but also, more intimately, their fighting styles, the strength and quality of the way they shout "no!" the determination with which they meet the attacker.

One woman has a shout that could cut steel. It's so piercing that if she ever is mugged, all she will have to do is yell and the guy will flee, clapping his hands over his ears. Other women's voices come from deep in their bellies. Some are caught in their throats. Some of them are working their way up from a ladylike whisper.

As in the last class, I fought hard; I was passionate, I was determined. I am strong. But my positioning sucks. Turns out there is a yoga to fighting. And just as in real yoga, I am somewhat coordination-challenged. A well-placed kick or blow can knock a guy out. Sloppy technique and the same kick results in a torqued knee for the kicker, or worse.

Today we had to practice dropping to the mat quickly, then rolling on our side and into kicking position. Quickly, that's the key word. I tried to drop and almost broke my own toes in the process. Somehow my feet tangled up under me. By the time I had gotten myself into position, my attacker could have run around the block and gotten a latte, and then jogged back to see how I was doing.

This week I resolve to practice positioning myself, dropping to the floor from each side, over and over and over if that's what it takes. Our instructor can droip like a stone in five seconds flat: whump! Her leg is up and she's ready to strike like a rattlesnake. I want to be able to do that.

The class is six hours an afternoon, for four afternoons. Twenty-four hours total. I'm feeling like I need a hundred hours to get this knowledge into my body. I plan to take this class again, if that's what the teacher recommends, or to move up to the next level. This is a challenge, and I'm loving it, much more than I would have thought., I was the anti-jock of all time as a young person, skipping gym, making fun of athletes. Now I'm working hard to develop a semblance of the reflexes I might have developed back then. And I appreciate them more.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Scuttlebutt in the teacher's room Wednesday: there is a new insult in the third grade. Are you ready? It's "butt-cheese." No adult is exactly sure what it means but it must be something very bad, because the boy who came up with it (after being provoked by another kid) promptly burst into pre-emptive tears because he feared retribution for having uttered such an obscene oath.

I think it ranks up there with Shakespeare's "lily-livered fool."

Also, I am sad to report that the new epithet has taken root and flourished in our household, bringing our relationship down to new, previously unexplored lows of immaturity. C and I are now calling each other "Butt-cheese," over every little thing.

"Who's the butt-cheese that left the half 'n' half out on the counter?"

"It was you, Butt-cheese-head!" Etc. Things can only get worse from here.

I learn so many new things at the elementary school. For instance "heelies": those are the little roller-skate heels embedded in really cool sneakers. And D.S.'s: it's some kind of video game. Even little immigrant children, fresh off the plane from Afghanistan, know that one. And I get to be present at the birth of great lines of poetry in the first grade, like today, when I kid said, "I am a person skateboarding on the rainbow."

But this takes the cake. Butt-cheese. You read it here first.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sunday I spent six hours in the company of sixteen other women learning how to beat up a very patient man in a padded suit.

It was fun.

Actually, it was more than fun, it was a little scary, slightly nerve-wracking, challenging, intense, fascinating, moving, and brought up a lot of stuff. During those six hours I found myself recalling all the small and large assaults in my past.

There was the old guy (well, I thought he was old--he was probably forty,) who operated the sandwich shop at the bus depot in Arlington where we changed busses from lexington to Cambridge. I used to come in there with my mother all the time. Once I came in there alone and he grabbed me and kissed me and stuck his tongue in my mouth. I was soshocked I didn't know how to respond. His wife was right there!

There was the hairdresser who cut my hair when I was a teenager and used to press his erections against my hand as I sat trapped in the chair, unsure and unwilling to believe that he was actually doing what it felt like he was doing.

There were the grown men who stopped their cars as I walked to junior high school and offered me rides.

There was the drunk guy in New Orleans who grabbed my breasts and squeezed them so hard and so fast as i walked down the street with my husband on one arm and my best friend on the other. He took his grab and then was gone, reeling off into the crowd, again, so quickly I couldn't react.

There were the two times I was mugged when I lived in Miami, when my handbag was grabbed right off my shoulder.

There were innumerable comments and offers and stares as I walked around the cities where I have lived. There was the boss at the Haitian Refugee Center who kept offering to come over my house and keep me company in the evenings.

There was the naked guy outside the window who stood there quietly masturbating, while I paced inside with a cast-iron skillet in my hand waiting for the cops to show up.

There was a rape.

I don't think I'm unusual in this regard. I think most women run more or less the same gauntlet, depending on where they live, how their physicality is read by others, and how good their boundaries are.

I had no boundaries. That's a tough way to launch into the world. It probably helped make me a poet, the membrane was so thin, and it certainly led to a lot of adventures, but if I had a daughter, I'd try to teach her more self-protection than I had. It would pain me to do so, but I would teach her that there are in fact bad people in the world and it would behoove her to watch out for them.

I was moved by the courage of the other women in the class. There were some tears. Only a few women cried. I think no one wanted to be "that person" who was going to be the identified victim reliving her trauma. We were all there because we wanted to be tougher, after all. But merely to be there, and to acknowledge what we had been through--and to hear, between the lines of what was said, all that was left unsaid...There was a box of Kleenex that got passed around. There were women who could hardly say "No!" much less shout it forcefully as we were instructed to. There were tiny women for whom the guy in the big padded suit with the huge helmet was truly an intimidating figure.

I was less intimidated by him than I had feared I would be. The first time he "mugged" me--grabbed me from behind--and I felt his arms close around his waist, felt him lift me off the ground and bring me down, I thought, "Oh! It's just a guy." There was something familiar in the strength of those arms. I twisted my body into position and kicked him in the head as hard as I could.

I was fascinated by the theory behind the teaching; since any assault will produce "an adremalized state," their aim was to put us into that state as they imprinted the moves into our bodyminds. The hope is, that if we are ever assaulted in the future, the training will come up automatically; we will fight instead of freezing in fear.

There is a delicate tightrope the teachers walk between getting our adremaline up and creating in us the confidence and self-worth needed to fight off an attacker. They are careful not to re-traumatize sensitive women but flashbacks and some disassociation are inevitable. This material is radioactive.

I personally was not so aware of feeling traumatized (typical--I usually go numb in the face of any difficult emotion.) But I found I was spacey and had a hard time memorizing even simple sequences. So many layers of my brain, body and psyche were being worked on all at once, it was overwhelming.

I liked the instructors and felt safe in their hands, including the male "attacker," who was probably the hardest working person there. If we felt exshausted fighting him, imagine how he must have felt, receiving repeated kicks and punches from sixteen women to the head and groin. (Granted, you could find guys in San Francisco who would pay good money for that kind of treatment, but I got the feeling his motives were more noble.) Occasionally he took off his big helmet to help us re-position our legs or scooch our bodies into better alignment in order to deliver a more powerful kick.

I could tell I was properly adremalized because for the life of me I could not remember three simple commands. At the end of each fight we were told to shout and enact: "Look!" "Assess!" "No!" before running off the mat to a chorus of other women shouting "Get help!" Not difficult. Yet each time I fought, as soon as the guy grabbed me I found everything we had just practiced flew out of my head and I just wanted to tear his head off. After I'd knocked him out I would just stand there unable to remember the simplest thing.

I, um, learned that I have quite a fund of innate aggression to draw upon should I ever need to. I guess that's a good thing.

I learned that I really enjoyed the knee to the groin move. "Run right through him!" our teacher coached, and I did, I ran right through the space where the attacker had been standing. No, I exploded right through the space. The other women cheered wildly. I've been applauded before, but never for fighting, never for acting aggressive, unladylike, and not nice.

Of course I have no idea how any of this would work in a reali-life situation. I hope I never have to find out. (Okay, most of me hopes that. there is a small James Bond-esque part of me that hopes that some idiot is dumb enough to attack me so that I can beat the living daylights out of him and save a whole planeload full of terrified passengers and then the President will offer me the Medal of Valor which I will turn down in order to make a political point. Yes, i do have those fantasies.)

It's a good feeling to be learning the skills. It's good just to have overcome my initial fear and resistance to taking the class at all. The hardest part was signing up for the class and driving myself there. I just wanted to stay home with C peacefully reading the Sunday paper and drinking coffee.

I had seen a friend's graduation from a similar class about twelve years ago. She was quite tough and strong and they put two assailants on her. My heart was in my mouth as I watched her fight them off. "Not me," I remember thinking at the time. "This looks too hard."

It took all these years, but I'm finally doing it, right on time. I was afraid I'd be the oldest woman in the class. I'm not. There's a woman there who is 62 years old and training for a mini-triatholon. There are also younger women in the class who have injuries and vulnerabilities; youth does not convey invincibility. I was afraid I wouldn't have the strength or stamina to make it through six hours of training. I do. (Although I was exhausted when I crawled home and into a hot bath which C had already drawn for me; I am the luckiest of women.)

It's amazing to me how he's encouraging me in this foray into power--that he likes the idea of me being physically confident and capable of defending myself. This goes against all my old conditioning and I love that. I'll be doing it next Sunday and the one after that, and the one after that. I like to fight. Who knew? At least, I like to fight in a controlled environment where nobody, including me, gets hurt. I don't see a boxing career in my future.

Most of my friends are taking or have taken Marshall Rosenberg's Non-Violent Comminication. How strange that I'm finding an exploration of my own capacity for hysical violence to be so liberating. How moved I am at the idea of all the women in my class-especially the little ones, the scared ones, the ones who don't have much of their own voice yet--fighting off potential attackers, fighting hard. How visceral this empowerment of women goes, deep into the body.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

A while back, Carla published a Participi-Blog where she invited people to write in and share what makes life worth living for them, the small and large things that light up their days. (To see it, go to . I wish I could figure out how to add links on this blog--I have had two friends, both much smarter about computers than me, try and come up stumped--there might be a glitch in my Blogger account.)

Anyway, I got my sister's and my nephew's permission to publish this letter from Eli, age 8, which rocked me with joy before going up on the refrigerator door. Here it is, original spelling intact:

Dear Ant Alison,

Here are pictures of me with teeth missing. Come soon. My mom is an Alein my real mom is on Mars you have to take care of me. Now I lost 4 teeth, 2 on the top 2 on the bottom I can't chew.If you played Boggle with Mom when she was a kid shes awesome! [Editor's note: this is a true fact. My sister can slay all comers in Boggle.] I'm not as good but I can do 2 letter words. Love ELI

Thursday, April 03, 2008

For the past two days I've been hunched over my computer like Smeagle fingering the ring of power, obsessively looking for theatres to send Kaddish and the Hot Tub play. I'm trying to do a smarter job of targeting likely theatres than I did last time with Kaddish when I sent out about twenty copies of it and received two yesses (that's actually not a bad return--ten percent.)

This time, I'm calling the theatres first to make sure they accept new scripts, and checking their web sites.

Doing this makes me feel all knotted up inside--it's the administrative part of this job, rather than the creative one (which makes me feel insecure and vulnerable too, but in a different way.)

As a distraction, I made chicken mole last night. I had never made any Mexican food before, other than mashing up a few avocados and dumping some salsa into them, but this time I followed a recipe. Onions, garlic, a tiny bit of very dark chocolate, a half cup of strong coffee, two tbsp of smooth peanut butter, a little chicken broth, crushed chili peppers, cumin, cinnamon, kosher salt...stir, stir,k stir until it thickens into a paste. Pour half of it over the chicken; cook, covered; take it out after almost an hour and poour the rest on. It came out rich and spicy and smooth and dark. C all but licked his plate.

Maybe I should be a cook rather than a playwright.

G is coming over soon to drag me outdoors for a tennis game, because if I just stay here doing this too long I will lose my mind and start cooking a bouillabaise or something. And after that, who knows?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

In the last week I've read two great novels, both English: The Other Side of You, by Salley Vickers, about the relationship between a woman, her dead lover, and her psychiatrist; and On Chesil Beach, by Ian MacEwan which I swiped from Carla when I was over there.

Both books deal with unconsummated love. The woman and her psychiatrist achieve an intimacy he has never experienced with anyone else. The man in On Chesil Beach loves a woman so intensely that he drives her away. On Chesil Beach is the first book I've ever read which takes for its theme sexual ineptitude and ignorance. Reading them is helping feed and water the seed of an idea I have to turn the hot tub play into a novella.

Both books reinforced something I've been thinking about lately--what a big deal ignorance is, how constantly we misunderstand each other. C makes a point of teaching his kids in Juvenile Hall basic math and money counting because so many shootings occur when people feel they've been shorted in a drug deal. Literally, people lose their lives over errors in addition and subtraction.

How many more break-ups and rifts in relationship occur because one or both parties lack the right words to explain themselves--or don't know how to make the crucial gesture at the right time? Of course the question remains, is this ignorance innocent or willful? For example, I can claim that I don't know exactly what is going on in Iraq, in Darfur, all over the world. And that's true. I don't know exactly, there's an overwhelming amount of information out there, too much to sort through, and plus which I've got an absorbing private life to attend to.

But do I not know enough, or do I not care enough? Do I not care enough to take the effort to get to know? Not only world affairs, but the problems which occur between people. It's easier to remain ignorant. It's harder to work to see it from someone else's point of view--such hard work that it makes my head hurt sometimes.

(As I write this blog, five new email messages have come in; each from a different environmental or political group urging me to do something, write something, etc. If I responded to each of them I would never get anything written. So--true confessions--I delete them unread.)

Reading these books I felt how impatient with them I would have been ten years ago. "Just do it!" I can hear myself yelling at the page. "Just reach out and grab her--grab him, for God's sake!"

I remember how, in college, I threw Portrait of A Lady across the room--I had to read it for an English Lit survey class. I was so pissed at Isabel Archer for being such a naive wimp, and so pissed at Henry James for naming the only kind, competent woman in the book Henrietta Stackpole, which I thought was a way of making fun of her. Now, I'm not so sure. After all, Henry was the author's own name. Hmm...someone should do a research paper on this. Or better yet, name a press Henrietta Stackpole Press. Henrietta Stackpole Productions.

I got to spend some sweet quiet time with Carla yesterday. We got to just sit in silence together, on the couch, just being.

I remember a therapist telling me, years ago, when I was in my twenties, that I needed to learn about subtlety. At the time, I was so emotionally frozen and yet desperately hungry for contact, for feeling, that I needed great dramatic gestures to show me that something was real: wild love-making, sobs and tantrums, big risky adventures, like hitch-hiking across Canada.

I think my true nature is quiet and peaceful enough to appreciate subtlety, but at the time my desires were louder than my essence. It was as if I couldn't understand anything unless it were shouted in my face, or delivered to me in a crushing blow.
I couldn't have been with C then--he would have run from me in terror. And I would have made up some big tragic story about it. And it all would have been a huge misunderstanding, and very sad, because we are so well-suited.

I'm grateful he came along when he did, when I was mature and tired enough to stop the drama because I realized it was killing me. I'm so grateful I had the wisdom, finally, to appreciate what is quiet and good and real between us--the undrama of daily life, making a good meal, a small considerate gesture, lying in bed reading our separate books, a look or a touch that says more than words.