Friday, January 30, 2009

My computer popped a gasket on Monday—as if the heat of this latest book I was going great guns on made it blow a fuse—and so for the past four days I’ve been laptopless. I’ve felt as though some one tied my right arm behind my back. Even though C generously offered the loan of his Apple while he was at work, I couldn't make the adjustment. Thank God the wizards at the computer fix-it store restored the motherboard to health (don't you love that word? Motherboard...)

Meanwhile, I‘ve been a freeway warrior, driving out to far-flung school districts (far-flung from Oakland, anyway) coaching students in preparation for the Poetry Out Loud competitions. It’s been an unexpectedly moving experience. The students have been diverse in every way—racially, culturally, geographically, and in their public speaking confidence and understanding of the poems. I’ve been touched by how much they’re into this, whether it’s because it’s a competition, or just because memorizing a poem lets you own it so much more deeply, but many of them have told me they love “their” poems, and they light up when extra layers of them get revealed through the coaching process.

I get to enjoy discovering or re-discovering great poems that are on the POL web site ( and also exercise my latent theatre teacher instincts. It's great to encourage shy students to straighten up, make eye contact and come alive in their expression. A fair amount of the students have accents, and they are the most moving of all to me.

And my class at Writing Salon started—a full complement of 13 students. So I feel like I’m back in the teaching saddle again.

The laptop blow-out means I’ll miss the January 31 deadlines I was hoping to make for the completion of this ms., but that’s probably a good thing—had I managed to rush out enough pages by then, they would have been premature. Now I have to get my momentum back. But for the moment, C is working on the in-law again and I promised ravioli for dinner.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yesterday was C’s birthday so we had a leisurely romantic wallow: bagels, lox, good lapsang suchong tea; flowers, a nap, the movie Milk, and a good dinner at a pub nearby with a tall glass of Guiness that was so thick you could stand a fork in it. Best was the talking—why are some restaurants and some dinners such perfect occasions for connecting, and others aren’t?

I remember an expensive dinner at a nice French restaurant after I’d won a poetry prize and gotten the MORE check, and the whole thing was marred for me by a large loud drunk woman at a nearby table who kept up a constant monologue to her poor companion.

I remember a wonderful meal with my mother—a date with just the two of us. I think I was eleven—I think we had just seen Hair. I had Creole shrimp over rice and we talked—that’s what I remember; we talked and didn’t fight. No other kids around interrupting, arguing, crying, asking for more, or spilling their water. I felt like a grown-up and ate slowly. My mother was very beautiful that day. She must have been all of thirty-five.

So many meals go unnoticed—most of them—but last night we were both conscious of how lucky we are, how precious this time is. Walking off the meal afterwards by strolling around the neighborhood smelling flowers and box hedges, in the very light drizzle. Listening to Eva Cassidy in the car on the way home, singing “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

For the past couple of weeks I have been working on this little book project. It’s half poems, half prose, and when I started it I thought of it as a poetic essay but now I’m thinking a whole book. I worked on it all day Thursday, from 7:00 in the morning until my friend Amy called me to go on a walk. Thank goodness she called because I wanted to go on working—my brain was still making words and lines—but my eyes were blurred from staring at the screen too long and my body was screaming to move.

I went to the gym, swam like a possessed woman, and then showed up, still spacey at Amy’s new digs and we walked by Alameda Beach just as the sun was setting. She took me on a less-traveled path and showed me how one could bicycle around there, although my brain was whirring so hard I couldn’t even process her simple directions. Really, when you go deep into the writing it’s like a drug, it’s like taking a mega-dose of caffeine mingled with hallucinogens and maybe a touch of Ecstasy. Kind of rough on a lightweight like me who can barely finish a glass of wine under normal circumstances.

I have been thinking more about this forgiveness thing: why do I find it so hard to forgive some people and so easy to forgive others? I do have an unfortunate tendency to hold grudges. Yet while I was very sad about my marriage ending I could never work up much anger at Alan—it just wasn’t there. There was some anger, but not the gnawing bitter kind that stays with you for years. I always knew he was doing the best he could, he had loved me as best he could.

On the other hand I’ve wrestled with anger and resentment towards my mother for years—all my life it seems—even though I also know that she did the best she could.

I’ve forgiven the criminals who have injured me and my property over the years—the guys sexually assaulted or molested me when I was young, the muggers who snatched my purse(s), the guy who masturbated outside my window in Miami, whomever stole my car(s) in Boston and in Oakland, whoever broke into my house two years ago and a few years before that. I never think of them, but if I did, the thought would probably be “Poor bastard.”

But I hold onto resentment about old lovers and a few former friends who did me wrong. I tighten up inside whenever I think of them. Their trespasses were so much lighter, but the proximity and the trust I had in them made them so much more painful.

It’s helpful for me to remember that it’s not that I can’t forgive, but that I forgive easily in some areas, and with great difficulty in others. And to try and tease apart—what part of my not-forgiveness is anger, and what part of it is the fear that still wants to make a boundary between me and that other person: I will not get close enough to you even to forgive you. I am so scared of being hurt like that again. (Even though my rational mind knows that it would be impossible for them to hurt me like that again, because circumstances have changed and I’ve changed—and they’ve probably changed as well.)

All this rumination is taking place against the reality of a March 1 deadline for getting the book of essays together, and also wanting to revise Shame Circus and get on with finishing the new play. I wonder: why the hell did I create this new project in the midst of trying to finish so many old and ongoing ones? I wanted to; I have so much to say about love and getting married—even though these subjects embarrass me a little with their overt heterosexuality—and it was the most actively bubbling pot on my crowded stove.

I still want (and economically need) to get a job, preferably some sort of counseling work, something in a non-profit. I’m doing some teaching through Poetry Out Loud, which is great fun—helping students who have memorized poems perform them for a national competition—and my essay class with Writing Salon has enough students in it, so that will be good. I’m just not sure it will be enough. We’re also still laboring on the in-law—sanding and washing walls today (me) and replacing flooring in the closet (C). And the wedding is six months away and we’ve got to, you know, plan it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Just one more word about the inauguration--I had watched a lot of it at Gerry's but missed the Inaugural balls. Today, on my computer, I just watched Barack and Michelle Obama dancing to "At Last" as sung by Beyonce. What a gorgeous moment.

The white one-shouldered dress that Michelle Obama wore looked like a wedding dress, and the lyrics to the love song were both a tribute to the love between the Obamas and also an acknowledgement of the emotion in the country.

"At lonely days are gone." It was like they were marrying the country, as if we were enfolded all together in that powerful powerful love. That is both the seductive magic (and perhaps the danger?) of their sweet myth.

I talked about displacement with Carla and also with C last night, specifically how I've made Bush be a convenient target for my anger and aggression all these years. Not that Bush doesn't deserve it, but there's also something knee-jerk and unproductive about that dynamic.

Carla was talking about how she can get mad at the usher of a theatre where there isn't good handicap access, or at something or someone else for a seemingly "petty" thing (although when you're in a chair, nothing is really petty because the smallest things can prevent your access,) and the real object of her anger is the situation itself. It's no one's fault, it's just frustrating not to be able to get down or up a flight when you need to, or go to the bathroom when you need.

I think we all do that--throw our rage around, (or in my case, I've often directed it inward, which doesn't work either.) I felt lucky to be able to discuss this so openly with C because there's never a whiff of judgement or condescension or moral superiority from him when I confront my negativity head-on. He doesn't try to gain any holier than thou points--he's completely trustworthy.

This business of withdrawing our displaced rage from the conveniently placed targets and then working it through in some other way that results in creativity, love and wisdom rather than just a well-worn negativity groove is hard. I don't know how one really does it except through art. It's like that Langston Hughes poem, "A Raisin in the Sun." "What happens to a dream deferred?" And then all the different options are explored, "Does it crust over and run/like a raisin in the sun?/Does it sag like a heavy load?/Or does it explode?"

That poem, with its last word, "explode" presaged the Black power movement. And now we're in the after-after-afterglow of all that, the Obamas dancing cheek-to-cheek together at the Inaugural ball last night. It ends in a love song--for the survivors.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And...finally! President Barack Obama. How sweet the sound.

We watched it at Gerry's apartment, on his hi-def TV--C and I and Raquel, and Elizabeth and Theron and Ruth and Michelle and E. Three lesbians, two African-Americans, one Colombian, two straight couples...

I can't remember ever actually watching an Inaugural before. I think for both of Bush's inaugurals I was rocking back and forth in a fetal position under the bed. Or maybe I was down at the Canadian consulate, pestering them for a citizenship application. Either way, I paid as little attention as possible.

For this one, we were rapt. I was particularly impressed with Michelle Obama's ability to stand and walk all day on pointy high heels shoes in an inadequate open cloth coat when the outside temperature was 24 degrees, 16 with the wind chill. Forget Obama--he looked great, sure, but he also had a nice long wool coat, thick scarf and comfortable shoes. When you see Michelle do what she did you realize we were not all created equal--some were created with the ability to be a politician's wife, and others of us weren't. Since C has no aspirations in that direction I'm safe--I can sit comfortably on the couch in my jeans and sneakers, moaning and kvetching if the thermostat goes below 60. But her--dignity and grace personified.

At the very very beginning, before he took the oath, Obama appeared deep in prayer or meditation, as if he were in an altered state. He didn't crack a smile until afterwards. I could feel the waves of Buddha-ness emanating from him.

I confess I am having trouble getting completely on board with the centrist make friends across the aisle philosophy. I agree we need to forget our petty differences and work together, but I have a hard time forgtetting that Rick Warren got Prop 8 to pass just two months ago, or all the damage done by the Republicans. I confess to having evil thoughts when I saw Cheney in his wheelchair, and the Bushes on the steps of the White House waving good-bye. I thouht of all the harm Bush did in his years as President, all of the Iraqi women and children who died, all the people who wdied in Hurricane Katrina who didn't have to. All the dead soldiers and those maimed for life.

I saw Obama and Bush embracing, Bush embracing Michelle Obama and thought, "Not me. I'd spit in his eye."

Yet another reason why it's good I'm not a political wife. Seriously, the extreme graciousness of the incoming administration makes me realize my own tendencies to be petty and resentful, and to question how useful those qualities are (not to mention how unattractive.) I am not comfortable with white-washing over history but it also doesn't do much good to keep clinging to old hatreds. i wonder how much I'll be able to let go of, given some time, and what I will gain in exchange?

There is more to say but I'm going to take a nap before embarking on the evening's inaugural festivities. Being a political spectator is so exhausting.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Beautiful, warm, sunny weather--gloriously warm, seventy degrees yesterday. I am wallowing in being able to walk around inside my house without a coat on--it's as if I can finally de-contract all my muscles. So delicious.

This past day or two I've mobilized around next career steps. About fifteen years ago in a co-counseling session, I came up with a mission statement, a la Stephen Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. (Yes, it's cheesy, but there's some good stuff in there.) My statement was: "I am an artist in community." I knew I wanted to create things, art, and I knew I didn't want to do it in an ivory tower. It was short, sweet, and simple. It worked.

There's another mission statement lurking around inside that wants to come out now. Something about serving and raising and uplifting the divine feminine, something about women and children. I've always felt it, ever since I worked with Haitian refugees and was so moved by their spirituality and the intense love I felt passing between us. I felt particularly moved by the "feminine" aspects of the culture--the earthiness, the practicality, the emotion and ritual, the female as well as male gods in the voudoun pantheon. Africans have a revered place for the Mother, both in society and spiritually (even though there is abuse of women there just as everywhere.) I responded to it hungrily.

This last year, going through the self-defense training at IMPACT, hearing the other women's stories and reflecting on my own, I felt it rise up again in me: this protective love for women and the feminine, this desire to serve what Robert Bly calls The Great Mother, the feminine force in life that nurtures and protects. (Not that men don't have it too, C is extremely nurturing, and so was Alan my first husband, and so is my father.)

I called a friend who runs a Domestic Violence Center in Oakland and she suggested I take a forty hour Domestic Violence training. There is also a 40-hour training in Sexual Assault. I want to take both. I have been calling and emialing around to find a training that I can take and so far have been unsuccessful. But I know this is the direction I want to go in. It feels exhilerating to follow up on it.

Meanwhile, we are jogging along--the in-law is almost complete. My story is out in The Sun. I finished the fifty millionth rewrite of the self-defense essay and sent it to Modern love, so now I am waiting with fingers crossed. I still have to work on the Carla article; it just won't gel yet. I am starting to try and get buff for the wedding, which is seven months away--building swimming back up again. I heard about a great aikido teacher, so I am going to investigate his classes.

I introduced C to Boggle and now he is addicted to it as I am. We went to see Rachel Getting Married the other night--a great movie, wonderful acting, terrific writing--but the hand-held camera was so jiggly it literally made C seasick. I looked over about three quarters of the way through the movie. At first I thought he was weeping because it was so emotional. Then I realized he was struggling hard not to retch. I passed him my hat and whispered that he could puke into it if he had to. Instead he fought the urge down and eventually put the hat down and pulled it over his eyes to protect him form the motion onscreen.

The next night we watched Peggy Sue Got Married with Kathleen Turner. I saw it twenty years ago when it first came out. All these movies about getting married--stepping over the threshold. Part of me, the old rebellious part wants to minimize that it's a big deal. We've been living together for over a year, it's just a piece of paper, what's important is the committment between us. I don't want to give our personal power away to a ritual. That's ego, my ego.

Because it is a big deal. It's a big vulnerable mysterious deal. We've got a lot going for us as a couple--mad love, humor, some skills, and perserverance (read: stubbornness) on both our parts, and a strong desire to really do this right. But we also know that 50% of marriages fail, that the statistics are even worse for second marriages than they are for first ones, that we both have individual failings that will make this enterprise challenging, and that sometimes it's just hard to compromise, give up power, surrender.

So here we are, not dramatic, but vulnerable. And open. And curious--that of all things, may save us.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

We went to see Garage Mahal last night, Kai Eckhardt's band. Amazing. The guitar player was virtuoso, the drummer was fantastic, the piano player was dry and witty and mostly minimalist. It felt like a grown-up date: drinks, dress-up, city lights. Funny to be doing something so decadent in such dire economic times; splurging a bit on a fancy outing as we listen to the bad economic news on the radio get even worse (as if that were possible.)

But life goes on, and culture, even when the stock market is down the toilet and the deficit is in the trillions. My own output continues to flourish--lots of new poems, a revision of the self-defense essay which finally feels like I nailed it. I just hope there will still be magazines and newspapers and books and places to publish...

When we got home the last few minutes of a PBS Great Performances was on the TV: Jennifer Garner and Kevin Kline in Cyrano deBergerac. I've seen that play four or five times but never done as powerfully as this. Garner was a revelation! The scene we watched was the denouement when she finally gets it, who has been her lover all along, hiding behind his impenetrable wit and his big nose. In one scene she is imperious, flirtacious, grieving, suspicious, angry, shocked, overcome with shame, brave, deeply loving, transcendent. I always knew she was beautiful, but had no concept of her range.

This was Alan's favorite play when we were together--he related to Cyrano as an outsider, a romantic who didn't feel he would ever get the prize, a diamond who would be overlooked because he didn't look the part. But watching Kline and Garner's performance I got another shade of Cyrano--even when she tells him he's wrong, she can love him, she does love him despite his nose, he can't take it in. He won't believe it, and he holds her love at bay even in his last moments when she is trying her hardest to give it to him.

He was wrong all along. The obstacle to love was never his nose, it was his ego, his defences, the fact that he didn't believe he could be loved. He kept love away from himself.

And she is overwhelmed when she sees her own blindness, her complicity in the game.

All that was there twenty-five years ago when I first encountered this play but how differently I see it now. How slow I've been in learning, and thank God for great art which sticks around so that we can measure our own relationship to truth through how much of it we are able to see at any given time.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

A few more moments--taking my Little Sister to play "tennis" this last Sunday--if you use the word in the loosest possible context, which I do. It was chilly out and no one else was foolish enough to come to the city courts by the lake. Just as well. After declaring that she was a great player (that's my girl, trash-talking is integral to sport,) she swung her racket around wildly, missing everything that came near.

I kept trying to soft-pitch her the ball so that it would hit right in the middle of her racket but then she'd holler at me, "Why you throwin to me like I'm a baby! I ain't no baby!" so I gave up.

We ended up playing some kind of invented lacrosse-golf-soccer thing with tennis rackets, but at any rate we were chasing the ball around and having fun, our noses running from the cold. The truth of the matter is we are both goofballs, and that is all we have in common, and it's enough. She's not a culture vulture like I am, she probably won't share my addiction/passion for books and art and theatre, I won't get the ego-gratification from mentoring someone who is like a younger version of me, and that's fine. She's a hurt kid with a whole backpack of experiences I am only beginning to learn about, and she needs to play a lot.

Moments with children are so fragile and hard to articulate, because it's an eyelash, it's a furtive smile, it's a leaning of weight against your own lap when you're sitting down. Nothing concrete, rarely verbal. A child is not going to turn to you and say, "You know, I trust you more than I used to, I feel like I can rely on you." She will never say that.

But she expects me now on Sunday afternoons; she knows I am coming. I feel like we turned a corner the week before, when we went up into the woods. Like we've dropped into a new level of being relaxed with each other. She has even said some nice things. When I backed up the car to get back on the freeway after stopping off at a quikmart she even murmured with a hint of surprise, "Hey, you're pretty good at that." Okay, being complimented on my driving skills by a seven year old may be grasping at straws, but over here at ADD central, we take what we can get.

She has given me a nickname--Ali-Al--which sounds a bit like I work for Hamas, but that's okay. When I dropped her off Sunday evening the house was warm and her grandmother had bought one of those fake logs at Walgreen's that make it seem as if you have a real working fireplace even if you don't. Her grandmother and her big sister were watching a video on the couch and I joined them, all four of us cuddled up in the warmth on a dark cold night.

I've also been over to Carla's old place a few times helping pack it up, and to her new place, unloading. The new apartment is so spacious, and the bathroom is huge and awesome! I love the colors: teal, lavendar, butternut. And I liked working with the other women; Kaila, Edith, Kathy, Christina, and with Allen.

I feel like C and I are turning a corner as well--a difficult corner for me to negotiate. I think this is the point in relationship where we start focusing on our own needs and wants and paths again. It's not as sweet as the initial bonding-nesting cozy romantic stuff. He's no longer just so moved and impressed by the fact that I write poetry. He knows it's part of my job.

He's moving on into his wider interests, music, math, building--and I need to make sure I keep growing too. You can't stay staring blssfully into each other's eyes for ever, even though a part of me would like to. (As Susan from Wing It! says "I'm a recovering barnacle." What a great way to put it--takes the shame off.) It makes me feel a little lonely, but a little bit good, too, to be thrust back into independence--and here's my life waiting, with all its same old quirky issues--principally the work-writing balance.

In short: I want a job. I wrote that this morning in my morning pages. Then spent some time this morning scanning the offerings at Cal State Hayward in of all places the Criminal Justice Department. I'm really interested in this new concept that's being pioneered that's called Restorative Justice. (Hell, it's probably been around since Biblical times, but it's new right now.) It seems so hopeful--offenders get to make restitution through working in the communities they damaged rather than just rot in jail.

I research this stuff and then I go, "Whoa! Not so fast! You agreed with your agent that you would have a manuscript ready for her by March 1st, you're in the middle of a new play you've committed to finish, and you've just written a mess of new poems. Are you going to be a writer or a worker out in the world?"

This question has been at the heart of my work issues for the last thirty years. I want both, I need both. One of my fondest memories is the time I spent working at SF General Hospital in the 90s. I loved the beehive atmosphere of a busy hospital, and having my own small part to play in it. I loved the mystery and excitement of encountering new patients all the time--their stories. And I can't write full-time anyway--I go in spurts. When I'm really on to something--an essay, a play--and I can scent the whole shape of the thing, I'm like a bloodhound and I can go long hours. But I can't do that day after day--it's crazy-making.

So how can I get organized and simple enough and efficient enough to do both?

I got a heartbreakingly positive rejection letter about Shame Circus in the mail a few days ago. The director said he "adored" the second aria. Not that he "liked" it, not that he "enjoyed" it, but he adored it. You can't get better than that.

The next paragraph started "Unfortunately, it is not quite right for X theatre at this time."

I hate that. It's like starting to date someone and having them tell you that you're beautiful, you're kind, funny and smart--but. "It's not you it's me." What is it then? What???

I wrote him back thanking him for his letter and asking the usual professional questions: are there any changes I could make, where else could I send this, what exactly would feel right for your theatre, etc. And now I'm back at my desk with The Recruiter. I have a Vietnam vet who agreed to read it for me and evaluate the descriptions of post-traumatic stress.