Tuesday, November 25, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 22, 2008

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 20, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 14, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Thursday, November 06, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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