Thursday, October 30, 2008

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

Hi all,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you,

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 20, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The rest of the trip was pure joy, though. I went to synagogue with Emily on Yom Kippor--a sweet snmall Renewal or Reconstructionist congregation. I'd forgotten to bring white clothes and as we settled in I noticed something and nudged Emily.

"I'm the only woman here wearing make-up. Is that forbidden on Yom Kippor? Did I screw up?"

She whispered back. "No, it's just Vermont. Anyway, you're not the only one." She indicated a large older woman several rows away with a wig that was slightly askew and some bright red lipstick that didn't look quite right smeared across her pale lips.

"Yes, but that woman has cancer," I hissed.

"That woman used to be a man."

"Oh, great. So, it's me and a transsexual wearing make-up on Yom Kippor!" Emily giggled. We picked up our books and started singing, the same songs we sing at Kehilla. We were hungry, but it was okay. Lucy, aged four, managed to stay in the room for the first hour of the service, and then she was off, exploring the building. I followed her around, traipsing up and down the wooden stairs, exploring the back corners.

She didn't last much after noon, so we left and took her to a playground, and then followed her across a muddy field, that led to a pond where there were frogs. We lay on our backs and looked at clouds, and went down to the water's edge and tested the temperature (cool,) and looked at the turning leaves and she climbed a tree. Towards evening Emily and I were feeling raggedy--Em broke her fast a little early with some bread, I had been nibbling cheese and crackers since noon.

The next day I went to Eli's third grade classroom and did a poetry lesson with the kids. His teacher could not have been a day over twenty-two and she looked sixteen. She was very nice and the kids jumped right in. Eli's father David came to watch and took me out for coffee afterwards. We had a nice talk and then he guided me in his car to Mt. Grace and left me there. "You have to climb two fences to get to the trail," he said. "But it's worth it."

I climbed the two fences and set off up the trail. It was a clear warm perfect October day. I don't know how to describe a New England fall without resorting to cliches. Words are inadequate. You walk under a cathedral of color and light. It is a leaf-littered, golden kaleidoscope.

I started to sweat as I climbed about forty-five minutes to the top, where there was a small fire tower. I climbed that too, and looked out. All around me the red green orange yellow Berkshires, an undulant sea of color. I couldn't help but sing the Shema. I sang it several times, louder and louder, then began spontaneously blessing every member of my family, all my loved ones.

I blessed the region, and the people of the region. I had such a strong sense of place. Even though I've lived in Oakland for almost nineteen years now, and city streets feel like home, I will always have attachment to this land, these colors, even the gruff New England accents and the sharp sting of cold weather when it comes. But this day was unseasonably warm and I blessed and I blessed as much as I had breath for, ending with myself.

Then, after some time, I walked back down. Walking up, I had passed two chocolate brown horses grazing freely, very close to the path. They were so big they scared me a little. On the way back one of them came up to me and snuffled me. He snigged my hands, my arms, my face with his huge nostrils and gigantic mouth. I looked at his hooves--one kick from one of them could have killed me. I stood still and let him smell me, and then I cautiously raised a hand and tried to stroke his long velvet nose. He jerked his head away. I was sorry I had nothing for him--no carrot, no apple.

I got back to my rental car safely, and then went to Harvard Square where I had lived for seven years back when I was in my twenties. I visited that house, 27 Dana St., and even rang the bell, but no one was there. I saw by the names on the door that the landlords, the Trachtmans, were still there. I walked down to the Grolier poetry bookstore, which is managed by a new person, and browsed and chatted with him, and left a copy of my book--my lone copy--there, on consignment.

As I was heading back to my car, I passed a cafe and there was my first poetry mentor, Bill Corbett, sitting, having dinner with friends. His face hadn't changed, it really hadn't, in thirty years. I did several independent studies with him where we used to walk all over Boston, snow or sunshine, to visit his friends' art galleries and talk about poetry. I often ate dinner with his family; Beverly, his wife and his two daughters, Marni and Arden. Under his guidance I read all the New York poets, John Ashbery (whom I didn't really get, and still don't to tell the truth) James Schuyler whom I loved, Frank O'Hara, Bernadette Mayer, Lewis Warsh. Bill loves art and painting, so I saw a lot of art then too.

We didn't have time to really catch up--he handed me a chapbook of some poems of his and I hurried off to the airport to pick up my darling C. He got off the plane with a headache, just as I had--what's up with planes these days? Is there less oxygen on them or what? We drove back to Dad's--Aggie behaving more and more erratically--until I had to do the last leg by memory.

The next day was pure Heaven, because the whole family met up for lunch at a Japanese restaurant. It was just the way life should be, the grown-ups laughing and talking and relaxing, the kids playing with each other, and coming around to sit on different people's laps for cuddling or rough-housing. This is how I would want to live always. Extended family. Children. Adults who are deeply connected sharing the work of looking after them. Generations. Community.

It's not all idyllic, of course. There are plenty of disagreements and all the usual tensions in our family. You can't get a group of strong willed opinionated people and subject them to the usual and unusual traumas of life--divorce, a bad economy, remarriages, and in our case our mother's prolonged illness and death--and not have people with some sensitive scars. But there was a lovely feeling of cohesiveness, and the kids reveled in it, you could just see it in the ease in which they ran around laughing. They know in their little bodies when they are safe and surrounded by people who really care about them.

We walked to a nearby playground afterwards and I loved watching C play soccer with my nephews while the girls climbed on the swings and the adults pushed them and chatted and kept an eye out.

And then, too quickly, it was over, and C and I were on the plane, me with a heavy bag full of mind-improving literature, which of course I ignored in favor of watching Project Runway for hours on end until we reached home.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I did not stick my head in a big bowl of Harry Potter. I did something better. I flew home to New England where the trees are turning red, orange, yellow, copper. I hung out with my favorite older man in the world, my father, whose sweetness is like the sky in October, delft-blue and spacious, and who never met a carbohydrate he didn't like.

We ate breakfast at Mad Martha's, a wonderful hole-in-the-wall diner in Newburyport, walked on the beach where we scattered my mother's ashes seven years ago, went clothes shopping at a consignment store and bought me a sexy slinky midnight blue blouse with a bit of decolletage, and in a bookstore where I bought books for the nephews and nieces.

Boston in October can be anything; this week it's been balmy, clear skies, warm temperatures. I basked in being an indulged daughter--how many more years will I be able to enjoy this great status. Some people don't get it at all. My Little Sister has never really had it in her short seven year old life.

We drove to Watertown to see the little red brick houses where our family lived from 1960 until 1965. I remember riding my tricycle busily around the tiny development, visiting neighbors. I was a chatty social little curly-head.

I remember pushing a baby buggy and eating a tiny box of Sunmaid raisins.

I remember digging a hole in my sandbox that I planned would go all the way to China. I was quite earnest about the architecture of the voyage--I would take my aprents and my baby brother and sister; we would travel through this tunnel and pop out on the other side of the world. How would we keep upright on the earth when we were upside down? maybe magnets attached to the bottoms of our feet. When we wanted to go home, we'd just go back through the tunnel, same way we came.

It was a tiny place we lived in--two small bedrooms. God knows how my mother fit two children's beds and a baby crib into one of them. You could stand in the middle of the room and touch both walls with your fingers.

Things were different then. One car per family. Dad and I both noticed more parking spaces that had been made since we left, now that every family has two cars. I wondered about the interior of the homes. Are they still as small as they were? I wished we could go up to the door and knock and ask to look around but my father didn't want to.

And I couldn't find the sandbox. It's probably been ploughed under, long ago, to make room for all the new parking. I couldn't find the swingset where I used to shimmy up the long poles. But we did stumble on something new--a pool! A good-sized outdorr pool that someone had put in. Of course it's all closed over now. No more swimming until May.

Then we visited my stepmother who was babysitting for Chris and Moire, my stepbrother and his wife, and their new baby Liam, who is gorgeous and talkative, although his language is incomprehensive to everyone but him. It's just three-month-old babble babble babble--but quite a lot of it.

Then I got in my rental car with my Dad's borrowed GPS thing-y to go visit my sister in Western Mass--and here my troubles began.

Dad loves his GPS--whom he has named Aggie, short for Agnes, because she has a soothing feminine voice. She understands him. When he makes a wrong move she doesn't yell or criticise, she just says "Recalculating," and then continues to give directions. In his mind Aggie can do no wrong.

Let me tell you something: Aggie is evil. Aggie is possessed. Aggie should star in the next Steven King novel.

Or maybe Aggie just doesn't like me. Maybe she doesn't like women. Maybe she's jealous.

At any rate, the directions called for me to go around a rotary with about a dozen roads leading into and out of it and get off at "the third exit." I panicked, slightly, because how do you count third? Do you mean third exit or just third road? It was dark by now and I have no night vision. None. I am Mister Magoo (now that really dates me) driving through a New England back roads rotary, constructed out of meandering cow paths three centuries old and I am lost. I take the wrong exit. No problem. Aggie says "Recalculating." Naively, I trust her. Surely Aggie will not lead me astray. Surely my father wouldn't let her.

Aggie tells me to go right, then left, then right again. I do what she says. I am traveling over back roads, unfamiliar roads, in the dark, but I think I will somehow magically end up on Route 2 going West again. I still have over an hour's drive to reach my sister's house and the kids are waiting impatiently for me to get there. After half an hour of this I find myself back at 36 Duff St., my ancestral home. In Watertown. I don't want to be in watertown. I want to be halfway down Rte 2 by now, on my way to Emily's house.

I call her, and re-punch in her address and start back. This time I get all the way down Rte 2 and start feeling insecure, when Aggie telepathically icks up my vibes and starts acting up again. She has me turn around and wants me to drive 32 miles back East, but I won't have it. I wrestle control from this evil machine, pull over and punch in Emily's address again, grimly. I can't get a signal out here, there's not much moonlight and the road is unlit. I can hardly see a thing.

On my way through Emily's town, an hour and a half late, I get a speeding ticket, for going 51 in a 35 mile an hour zone. The icing on the cake. By the time I crash through her door I am a nervous wreck. be continued...

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I am so tired I can barely lift my fingers to type this. We have confessed to each other that we both feel stuck around the in-law. I've been scraping away womanfully and the more I do the more there is to do. Meanwhile my brain has turned into a bucket of paint shavings. White paint shavings.

The good news is we are not fighting, blaming or accusing each other for this mess. Simply acknowledging it. We will hire someone and get it done. Meanwhile every time I go near the newspaper, the TV or the radio, all I hear about is the economy falling apart.

At the gym the other night I got on the treadmill. There was a phalanx of TV sets lined up in front of the machines, tuned to several different channels. It was like a bad-news arcade. Everywhere you looked--and there was noplace else to look--banks closing and houses being foreclosed, and grim-looking suits were on screen.

I think I'm going to go on strike from reality for a day or two. Buy or borrow the seventh Harry Potter and read it straight through.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Mercury is retrograde, and I'm scraping paint. Specifically: I'm scraping the paint that I applied so zealously two weeks ago. Why am I scraping it all off? Because it's the wrong paint. It's latex paint instead of oil-based. I was really industrious getting it all on there--covered quite a bit of the kitchen. Now every inch of that work has to be undone.

It's humbling. I'm sure it's a good spiritual exercise. I can just imagine some senior monk giving it as an assignment to a novice monk in Nepal. "Here, paint this room. When you're done, scrape all the paint off. Repeat as needed until you have no ego left."

Last night I put out tons of the trash we had out back for a Big Trash pick-up. I mean there was a toilet back there, (and FYI, those things are HEAVY!) there was a sink, and various other big things. I used the dolly and bent my knees and went slowly and did it all by myself. C was off picking up the new toilet and doing other necessary errands. He was suitably impressed when he got home. I was tired and cranky. This task feels never-ending. It's Sisyphean. And invisible.

I'm living very much like a monk. Well, a monk who's having sex and going to jazz concerts and eating chocolate chip cookies and watching police procedurals. Okay, scratch that monk metaphor.

I went with G to hear Carla perform Friday night at Anna's Jazz island. She had had a bad fall earlier that day and had an ice pack on her shoulder, but she seemed to gain strength and ease through singing. It is something to see, the struggle of the life force to find a path, like a green shoot coming out of sheer rock. And the triumph of training and will--I was going to say triumph of the will, but it's not the will to power, it's the will to beauty. Her singing was beautiful, and the band was so tight and easy behind her. G whispered to me that he liked this concert even better than the one at Yoshi's back in March and I whispered back that we were sitting just five feet away from her and the band.

"I think she should do these small intimate venues," he said. "It just magnifies everything."

I wore my brown velveteen dress, and whenever anyone complimented me, I felt compelled to blurt out, "It's from Target! It only cost ten dollars!" (True: it was on clearance.) I have to learn how to accept a compliment graciously.

Monday night, C and I went to Kehilla for Rosh Hashana. It felt so nice to walk there with him, (we parked half a mile away: my fault,) dark of the moon, a nice evening, both of us dressed in our best clothes. He wore the green and silver tallit I had given him for Chanukah draped around his shoulders. Bethie sang at services, and Shulamit--it was very beautiful.

This is supposed to be the time of teshuvah--reflecting, reconsidering, reevaluating our past year. How fitting that it falls on Mercury Retrograde. What I would like from this next year is the freedom that comes from discipline. Not playing endless websudoku games at my computer. Not indulging in things that make me feel bad afterwards. Personal freedome from bad habits and soft addictions. And for the world: President Obama. That's all. Please God.

I talked with my sister--I'm going to see her next week, when I go back East for my Dad's birthday. She told me she had a little aunt-Alison-read-a-thon with her daughter Lucy. They hauled out the storybooks I wrote and illustrated for Noah, for Eli, and for her, and read them all, one after another. That made me feel so good! Then my nephew Eli got on the phone.

"What are you doing?" he asked with his best telephone conversation skills.

"Scraping paint," I told him.

"That sounds boring!" Uh-huh.

I'm going to visit his classroom and do a little poetry lesson with the students--we talked about that, and about him coming our here for the wedding.

"Oh, if I come to California, I'll have ten pages to write in my journal!" he exclaimed.

I keep getting emails from a group called Impeach Bush. I think impeaching is too good for him. I think Bush should be condemned to scraping every speck of paint off the entire White House. By hand. And then repainting it and doing it over.