Wednesday, September 30, 2009

See How We Almost Fly is officially here!!!

The books came two days ahead of schedule, in a big box, and they are beautiful!! If I were more tech-savvy, I would include a picture of the front cover to display, but you can see them (and, hopefully, order them) from my web site Or you can go to Pearl Editions at and order your copy there.!

I have to go drop off some copies for friends now....

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Christopher came home Thursday night--weak, fragile, and in pain. I don't know how we got him up the stairs into our bed, but we did. God bless Gerry for staying with us through a long boring frustrating exhausting day at the hospital, trying to get a notary to come to C's bedside to authorize me to collect his car from the tow-yard ("But you're married," my friend Ruth said incredulously. "Yeah, you'd think that heterosexual privilege would count for something," I said. It doesn't. Everyone's trying to legally protect themselves from getting sued.)

C meanwhile, still couldn't keep anything down, and was throwing up and writhing in pain whenever he tried to sit up. Finally by the end of the day he managed to sit up and we got the back brace on him, then loaded him into a wheelchair and took him home. No discharge plan, no cane or walker, no thing. Good-bye and good luck.

He made it into the house on sheer determination alone, collapsed into bed and basically slept for the better part of two days, eating a very little at first and then gradually a little more. Friday he sat up incredibly s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully, and we got the back brace on. A trip to the bathroom was an Odyssey. But Saturday, he managed to walk all over the top floor and even venture downstairs. And today he's been puttering--slowly, cautiously, balancing between pain medication and the brace, but puttering. He's learning what he can and can't do in this new, recovering body, and--typical--he wants to be up and doing again.

It's bright and hot out and we've been sitting in the living room drinking coffee, eating figs from the tree, listening to Harry Reasoner and reading the Sunday Times. So simple and precious.

Last night I left him for a few hours in the care of a good friend and with his encouragement drove to Sacramento to hear No Nude Men Theater group read my play Glitter and Spew. It was about two dozen people, lots of very strong actors, a couple of other playwrights, and directors. They loved the play! They laughed, sighed, and there was a great discussion afterward which gave me ideas about how I could expand and improve the third section. Of course I felt critical as I heard it aloud--lots of places I wanted to fix. In particular I'm concerned about the balance of lyricism to "real" dialogue.

I read an interview with Sarah Ruhl (author of The Clean House and many other wonderful plays) who said that writing a play was writing poetry for the stage. That quote from her gave me permission to write heightened, poetic monologues for my characters; it was very freeing. I'm concerned though that it's easy for me to write "poetically" and that i shouldn't lean on that ability as a lazy substitute for character development or plot. So hearing the play aloud, I wanted to trim some of the fancier monologues. But Stuart, the director, said that he wouldn't change a thing from the first two short sections. The third one he said, does need more development.

It felt great to have the play read aloud, finally, and exciting to make connection with this talented crew. And it felt--I don't know--independent--a little lonely, but kind of good--to know that i could have both these halves of my life, but that I alone am responsible for balancing them--to work as an artist and also be a care-taker. It was a long drive back without radio reception; I listened to my CD of Carla singing, and also to the Roche Sisters. It reminded me of so many long empty moonlit road trips, with Alan and without him, and now with C and without him. Times in the car when you go without saying or even thinking much of anything for long stretches and then come to with a start, realizing you've been dreaming awake, and the road has flown by, and you are finally home.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Unfortunately, Christopher passed out from low blood sugar behind the wheel of his car. Fortunately, (thank god, thank God, thank God) he was not on the freeway at the time and only hit a chain link fence going very slowly. Fortunately, he received good medical care at the scene and got taken to a decent hospital. Fortunately, I was home when the phone call came and after an interminable wait in the waiting room at the ER, I could see him and be with him without restriction. And Ruth came, and sat with me, and brought salad and little tea candles, and lavender oil, and a book of spiritual poetry.

Unfortunately, he has compression fractures in his vertebrae and it hurts when he tries to move. Fortunately, there are drugs to deal with it--lots of good drugs.

He spent a lot of time today dozing, and having an MRI, and got measured for a back brace by a charming young man with one prosthetic foot.

"What happened?" I asked.

"Farm equipment when I was a kid," he said. "It sucks, but it's how I got into this line of work."

It was clear he really cared about what he did; he was careful and friendly and easy as he made lots of tiny black dots on Christopher's body with a magic marker. Unfortunately, Christopher will be in this brace for the next few months. Fortunately, this will not be permanent, and who knows? Maybe this whole incident has some good things to teach us--like we should meditate, or we'll start doing yoga together, or...

Unfortunately, this accident puts the kibosh on some of C's more ambitious plans for doing the solar paneling on our roof himself. On the other hand, who knows--there could be a silver lining to that too.

I'm feeling the kind of numb I get around hospitals. The smell. Last night as I drove home after spending about eight hours in the hospital--from 3:30 to 11:30 I was immensely comforted by the bare moonlit hills of Castro Valley, and the rich stink of skunk. Okay, it's not a "nice" smell, but it was real. Whereas hospitals have this fake baby-powder smell that is really masking some far ickier scents, and it just makes me anxious.

Fortunately, I could come home and sleep--sort of--in our own bed. The first time i have slept there alone since Christopher moved in two years ago. I am going to cook myself a bunch of garlicky string beans and eat them--an antidote to the abysmal, sugar-laden glop that is available at hospitals--and I admit, there's something about stress and trauma that makes me crave sugar. I feel like eating a king-sized box of movie candy and just disappearing into a PEOPLE magazine. (There was a reader's Digest Ann Rule true crime book at the gift shop which I bought for a dollar and have been reading--all about a dentist who killed his girlfriend and his wife. Very uplifting.)

I asked C how he felt about staying in the hospital one more night as he was dozing off into a morphine haze. "Well, they do have cable, " he murmured. "And then it's hard to beat the food..."

Before we found out exactly what happened, when I was sitting for that interminable hour and a half in the sitting room, imagining stroke, seizure, heart attack, I had told Ruth, "As long as his sense of humor is intact. If he can't walk, that will be a drag, but we'll manage. As long as he still has his sense of humor..."

He can feel all his toes and wiggle them and move his legs. It's just that his back seizes up when he tries to do anything more than that. And it's hard to see him in pain. I think I'll go say hi to the mama feral cat (who is still nursing, even though her babies are almost as big as she is.) Maybe pull a few weeds and eat something green. Then head back to the hospital again.

Friday, September 18, 2009

"How are things in the poem factory?" Christopher asks as he arrives home. I barely take my eyes off the screen.

"Just finishing up." I kiss him and shove a few pages under his nose. "Here, read this."

"Can I go to the bathroom first? Can I get a snack?"

"If you must."

For the past few--I don't know how long it's been, days? Weeks?-- the poems have been coming thick and furious. I've pulled apart the manuscript of Love Shack, eliminated a lot of weaker pieces that I see now were just place-holders, and replaced them with the new work which feels much stronger.

Of course that means the overall shape of the book is changing as well, bursting its bounds, like the fig tree in our front yard which I wouldn't let C prune back as hard as he wanted to last winter. Now she has completely taken over, threatening to put people's eyes out with branches that reach across the sidewalk, but oh, there are millions of figs. Enough for us, for the birds, for passersby...

So the book, which started out life as a collection of love poems--I was thinking specifically about an Anne Sexton book, Love Poems, which I read a million years ago, and which contains some of her best writing--has now expanded to include a bunch of my other, usual preoccupations, Oakland, street people, kids, women, etc. And animals.

More cats and dogs in this book than ever before, probably a result of living with Mr. Cat-Magnet, who, however little sleep he has gotten the night before, still always remembers to set out food for the feral cat family. The mama now boldly nurses her babies out in the open in our back yard, in plain view of everyone. I see her from the upstairs bathroom window and if I make any noise she looks up startled, and the kitties jump and scatter. I didn't realize that cats had such an acute sense of hearing.

Last night we went to hear Chick Corea at Yoshi's, courtesy of a wedding gift from a friend. Awesome. Corea looks like a friendly science teacher and plays like a monster, but I fell in love with Stanley Clarke, the bassist. What a presence. he did everything with that bass short of actually fucking it onstage and I'm sure I was not the only woman in the audience who thought about him doing that. He caressed it, slapped it, bowed it, played with it, and in general was one with his instrument.

I envy musicians having such communal fun with each other, with the audience while they are doing their art. It's a great feeling to be writing so intensely, great and also lonely. When my friend Angela was on a writer's retreat last week, it was almost like we were working together as she and I would email each other updates during the day.

Now that she's back to her real job, I email drafts to Ruth, and bless her, she manages to respond with great speed and helpfulness, even claiming that it's "fun" to be inundated with new poems. I also send them to family and friends, fairly promiscuously. My father, who has no more self-control than I do, usually responds by inflicting my early drafts on his entire email list. By the time those poems have landed in his friends' inboxes I've usually revised them.

There's a new movie out about Keats called Bright Star and of course I'm going to see it. I love seeing writers depicted in movies, especially since writing is such a boring and solitary pursuit. I mean, where's the dramatic tension in watching someone hunched over a piece of paper or a keyboard? It's not exactly The Wrestler, with Mickey Rourke sticking needles full of steroids in his butt in the locker room, or any of the great bio-pics about musicians, which have plenty of wonderful concert footage.

How do you dramatize something as ethereal and often sedentary as thought? I mean, moving commas around and selecting one word over another may end up having a profound effect on a poem, but it doesn't do much visually.

My favorite writer-movie scene, because it was so highly improbable, occurred in Julia, when Jane Fonda, playing Lillian Hellman, threw her typewriter out the window in a fit of frustration. Loved that. Would never ever ever do that, no matter how frustrated. They really should show writers opening the refrigerator door and staring at the contents, picking their noses, checking the mail obsessively, and pacing around their house, pinching dead leaves off of houseplants, only that is almost as boring and depressing as the act of writing itself.

No matter. The poems are coming. The book is getting leaner, meaner, and yet more abundant. Expansion and contraction at the same time, which is the theme for this week. I have been thinking about how there is not expansion in life without a significant contraction buried in the heart of it, and vice versa. No contraction without a strange and contradictory expansion. I could say more about this, but I have a feeling everyone reading it will have their own examples.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Christopher sent me an interesting link to an article in today's New York Times about unconditional love. This article talked about the way parents give and withhold approval from their kids in an attempt to control their children's behavior. The research shows that conditional love "works"--that is, parents are able to get their kids to be socialized, achieve, etcetera, by this method. But it produces adults who are insecure and resentful.

I wondered about this. First, I wondered What would unconditional love look like? How could a parent conceal their approval of some behaviors and their disapproval of others? Would that even be desirable?

Then I wondered, What would unconditional love feel like? I suspect it would make me uncomfortable because I am so accustomed to judgment as a way of being. It would be hard to release that. But delicious, I think. Delicious and scary. My fear for myself would be that without conditions I would descend into total sloth and selfishness. Without the fear of losing other people's love and approval I would not be motivated to exert any efforts to combat my own natural immaturity.

I thought about my Little Sister. I don't love her unconditionally. Well, I feel compassion for her, and I appreciate her funny, quirky, stubborn nature, but I can only deal with being around her if she is relatively gentle and respectful; I can't take it when she's aggressive and rude. It wears me out.

I know the deal is to separate the person from their behavior. "I love you, I just don't love it when you..." Or as my mother used to say, "I love you I just don't like you." Ecchhhh.

That hurt, when she said that. but what if it's true? What if sometimes you don't like the person you are supposed to love--or the person you do love deep-down even though right this moment you can't access that love-feeling? What do you do--dissemble? Remove yourself from the situation until the love comes back? Apply unconditional self-love as fast as possible and hope that does the trick? Man, my heart goes out to parents. This shit is hard.

Luckily, Christopher has not yet done anything that has even come close to shaking my love for him. We get annoyed and frustrated with each other at times, yes, but nothing toxic, ever. He has never made me feel like I had to choose between him and my own psychic survival. At the end of the day I can always count on his innate decency and kindness--I'd bet my life on those qualities of his. I have bet my life on them.

My Little Sister on the other hand, has worked my last nerve. She stretches me and tries me and I come up short and find myself wanting. It's hard for someone who didn't receive unconditional love as a child to learn how to give it. It's hard to unconditionally love someone who has built up thick hostile-looking walls. It's hard to love when the relationship is by its nature lopsided, when the language and culture are different, when it's inconvenient and expensive and often feels unappreciated.

Yet the more challenging it is to love in this way the more rewarding it is when the breakthrough occurs, the walls are breached, the shift happens. In her and in me.

I read the article. I understood the words. But seeing and experiencing difficult love is another animal entirely. I am such a beginner.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Today I laid down the law with my Little Sister and got great results. She was giving me attitude before my car had even left the church parking lot where I picked her up, turning up the volume to earsplitting levels on the radio--KMEL which I let her listen to, rather than NPR or KCSM the jazz stations, which I prefer--and defying my attempts to turn it down. She had that hostile, distant, closed look on her face which I've come to know and dread over the past year, the look which makes me feel like I'm dealing with a 20-year-old thug rather than a child.

I stopped the car, took a deep breath and said, "Look, I am a volunteer, do you know what that means?"

She nodded in an adults-always-lecture-you way.

I said, "Tell me what that means."

Eye-roll. "It means you want to help."

"Right, I do want to help. But I don't want to be treated badly. And I don't have to do this if I don't want to. If you can't be nice to me then you're going to have to find a new big sister."

She was quiet for about five minutes after that as we drove and I thought Uh-oh I blew it. But then she started talking like a normal 8-year-old, rattling on some stories about making a volcano out of play-doh and putting vinegar and baking soda together to make a bubbling froth to come out of it. Normal kid stuff. Amazing.

And she stayed like that for the next three and a half hours, during which we bought food coloring, made play doh, did science experiments, cleaned up science experiments, and made a batch of chocolate chip cookies. She even let me read a few pages of a kid's book to her. And we wrapped up the cookies and tied them with a ribbon for her granny and she wrote out a gift card, totally on her own initiative.

She's starting to grow up. We were talking about being the baby of the family, which she is, versus being the eldest, which I am, and she said, "When you're the baby you're spoiled, like I am." She didn't have any shame about saying that about
herself; she thought it was a good thing to be spoiled. She wouldn't want to trade her position.

When I was a kid my mother used to say that my father spoiled me and I'd feel terribly ashamed and try to prove that I wasn't spoiled. Now, I'm not even sure I know what spoiled means exactly. Is it getting what you want? What you need?

I do know that it works much better with this little girl when I set firm limits and back them up. This has not historically been my strong suit, but when pushed to the wall I can do it. (I guess the trick is to learn how to do it even when not pushed to the wall.) Some people just need to see that strong reaction from you to know that you're not kidding. Or maybe to know that you're really there.

She had taken her medication too. That may have had something to do with it.

I had been feeling lately like I wanted out of this volunteer commitment. Had even talked to the social worker at Big Brothers Big Sisters about it. It's been over a year and I couldn't feel that she was really bonded with me--not when she'd act so distant and defiant. There were many times when I felt just like a chauffeur and a meal ticket. I know this is a common experience for parents of teenagers, but it's not what I signed up for.

I couldn't figure out how to "make" her treat me with respect, but when the moment was right, those words came. And more important than the words were the eye contact I gave her, and the body language that said I really meant it.

I am no saint. And I am not always as skilled, with her or in other situations, as I would like to be. What I do give myself credit for is sheer stubbornness. She can be a tough little girl--there are a lot of good reasons why she has had to be--but I can be a tough woman too. And I like it that I don't quit. I'm glad I'm hanging in with her, despite the ADHD, despite our differences and all the other issues. She's not the only one learning and growing.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

The title of the new Mark Morris dance performance premiering at Zellerbach Hall,"Sightlines," reminds me of what happened when I was assisting a women's self-defense class this summer. The other assistant and I were sitting at the far end of the room when we "saw" one of the male instructors slap one of the young female students on the butt. If you had handed me a Bible just then and asked me to swear on it under pain of perjury, I would have. That's what my eyes saw. My ears heard the slapping sound.

I was startled. This was a clear boundary violation. I looked at the young woman; she seemed relaxed and focused, not at all upset. I looked at the row of students lined up against the wall. They were all engaged and content. No one seemed perplexed or disturbed. I looked at the lead female instructor at the head of the room. Again, everything was fine.

I decided I must have been seeing things, and filed it away in my brain under the category Weird Shit.

My co-assistant believed the evidence of her eyes and ears. She went and spoke to the lead instructor, who spoke to the male instructor, the slapper. I had worked with the male instructor before. He is a great guy, sweet, unpretentious, a feminist. I would trust him with my sister. I would trust him with my nieces. I would trust him with anyone.

It turns out he had slapped the sole of the girl's shoe as her foot was cocked, ready to do side-thrust kicks, to indicate "Okay, go for it!" Totally appropriate. From the angle that my co-assistant and I had, in the spot where we were sitting, it looked like he was tapping her on the butt. Everyone else could see he was touching her shoe.

Last week, when the Lovely libra Grrlz and I went to Bolinas for one last ocean romp of the summer, I was frolicking in the waves when I saw some teenage boys on shore heading towards the towel where all our stuff was piled, including one of my friend's wallets. Oakland-based paranoia set in and I ran out of the surf, my thighs pumping, to defend our material belongings. And I was sure it was our belongings they were rummaging in. After all, our location was distinctive, right near the empty lifeguard chair.

It wasn't until I got really close, almost on top of them, (and thank God I hadn't yelled out, "Hey! Get away from our stuff!") that I saw that their towel was actually laid down directly in front of ours. They were innocent, innocent, innocent. They were rummaging in their own backpacks. And I was reminded once again that I could not always trust even the evidence of my own eyes. Sightlines.

I'm trying to use these experiences to broaden my understanding of how other people's points of view appear rational to them even while seeming quite crazy to me. I think I'm okay at empathizing with other people's emotions. At least i can respect their emotions even when I am not feeling the exact same thing myself. I can try to imagine what I might feel in their shoes. But I can be intolerant when it comes to other people's opinions. How can they think that?

Monday, September 07, 2009

Swimming today I hit that blissful spot where the swim itself took over. I was no longer hauling myself through the water, rather something was swimming me. Performers get this sometimes, I think--when the song starts singing them. And writers. Artists, athletes, everyone. The hard part is just putting in the miles to get there. Once you're there you can't conceive of being anywhere else.

Today it came after about twenty-five lengths of solid work and didn't last that long, but it made the whole effort to get to the gym worth it. The only "problem" is that afterwards I'm so relaxed and slow that I'm not good for much else. It's hard to work up the requisite driven anxious intensity that fuels a lot of my writing and sending out frenzies. I can write, of course, but through a haze of feel-good endorphins, the material is different. It's like everything has a lazy shit-eating grin on it.

Last night we watched Man On Wire, about Philippe Petit, the crazy Frenchman who strung a cable between the Twin Towers and walked across it. I have such a fear of heights that I was sitting--no, writhing on the couch, screaming, as the camera panned down, down, down to the tiny ant-cars and people below. Just thinking about it now sends waves of feelings through my body; nausea, and fear and vertigo and excitement and longing.

I was a kid who could barely make it across the balance beam; my ankles would shake uncontrollably as soon as I stepped on it. But Petit stepped on that wire as if it were made for him, as if there were a magnetic force pulling him along.

It was an awesome feat, a dance in the clouds, a dialogue with death, a pas de deux with God. A crazy thing. He enlisted a whole team of impressionable young friends who were willing to risk arrest just to help him pull this stunt off.

Watching him, I was reminded of my old French boyfriend Maxime, who was playful and bossy and arrogant like Petit, and also like him, romantically attached to the notion of living with passion and intensity. (It took a small army of self-sacrificing individuals to help Petit achieve his goal, but that, I guess, was not his problem.)

Like Petit, Maxime was constitutionally against authority. Rage against the machine motivated him. If he heard of a rule, he would break it. He almost felt morally obliged to break it. Like Philippe Petit, he was annoying and inspiring, narcissistic and childlike and inventive. Petit is still alive, wizened in face but lithe and slender in body, still practicing daily on an outdoor tightrope. Maxime got involved with drugs and committed suicide at the age of twenty-two. He's been dead for almost thirty years.

Friday, September 04, 2009

We finally got around to watching the movie Doubt last night, starring Meryl Streep and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. (I know, I know, it's lame to be blogging about movies that came out last year, but it's been a slow news week around here. Christopher started back to work and I've been writing poems.)

I loved the play by John Patrick Shanley. It's a stripped down little jewel, a miniature cathedral, perfectly balanced. Everything that's there needs to be there and nothing else. It's a miracle of construction and compression. The movie is by necessity much more open and complex. You get the real sense of a school, kids running around, bells ringing and buzzing, lights failing, blackboards squeaking, people eating and reading and talking and interrupting each other. Of course Streep and Hoffman are wonderful, but I loved the supporting actors even more; Amy Adams as the radiant young nun, and Viola Davis as the mother of a boy at the school.

Adams gave the young nun more intelligence and dignity than I had read into her part when it was just words on the page. You could see her character thinking and feeling; she was so transparent, and yet not silly or easy. Davis just went to a place that was so deep she took my breath away.

By contrast Streep sometimes distracted me with her Streepian mannerisms, her strong Bronx accent, her agitated hands brandishing her crucifix...she went over the top. There was one scene in particular, when she and Hoffman were shouting at each other in her office, the climactic showdown between them, that went on too long, where the weight of the famous stars' technique sort of sank the credibility for me. I know this is blasphemy, and I do love Meryl Streep, but there are a lot of wonderful actors in their fifties and sixties, and I would love to see a less-familiar face. When you're watching Streep you're watching Streep, that's the fun of it, but it takes away from getting lost in the story.

Hoffman was very powerful, but in my mind's eye I had seen Father Flynn as younger, sleeker and more sexy. I thought it was Flynn's eroticism that fueled the feud between him and Sister Aloysius. Hoffman is many things, versatile and powerful and poignant and vulnerable, but he's not sexy. Not. I thought Father Flynn should be the kind of man who would appeal to both men and women; that everyone would want to touch him, draw close to him, even if they didn't understand the source of their attraction.

The movie is visually beautiful and deep. Christopher loved it (and he might disagree with some of my comments about Hoffman, who was wonderful when he delivered sermons, really inspired.) It was fun to share my love for Shanley, whom I feel has been a playwriting teacher to me even though I've never met him. Last year I read my way through everything of his that was in print and learned so much. I envy him his output--dozens of plays, and several movies--and it was fascinating to trace his development as he stretched and contracted to meet the different demands of the various forms.

Yesterday I went to Theron and Elizabeth's house to help them brainstorm their vows and to give them the wedding poem they had requested I write for them. It was an honor to bask in their nuptial glow and to pass on some of the practical ideas Rabbi David shared with us when we were preparing our words.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The kitties are back!

Not long before our wedding, while cleaning up the backyard, I picked up a stray piece of lumber that had been hiding a nest with three kittens in it. The mama, a black and white feral cat who has been hanging around our yard for ages, jumped up and ran away a short distance, where she stood, glowering.

Christopher started leaving bowls of food and water out for the nursing mother and from time to time we'd peek in at the little ones, whose eyes were still mostly closed. Then, unwisely, I advertised the family's presence to my kitten-besotted five year old niece. Two visits in one day from a short human with a higher than average hummingbird-like vibration was too much for the mama: she picked her babies up by the scruff of the neck and moved them one by one to an undisclosed location, safe from the shining eyes and petting fingers of pre-kindergarteners.

When Dede died, we were all the more sad to be missing the kittens; suddenly we were completely bereft, for all practical purposes, catless. The feral mama continued to come out to get food--four square meals a day, I live with a generous man-- but the babies were kept in the witness protection program.

Until this week, when they came out, half-grown and more sure-footed, but still recognizably kittens, with big sensitive ears and curious faces. They're shy and will run away if they even sense us watching them. They love to hide and play under the big overstuffed red velvet chair on the patio, treating it as a playground structure. Christopher feeds them attentively, no matter how long his day has been; up at six and down to the fog-shrouded garden, and then last thing at night, under the moon.

He says the kittens are still nursing, (as well as crowding each other hungrily at the food-bowls,) but the mother is trying to kick them off the maternal teat. They don't want to go get a job, he says; they'd rather lounge around the house, playing video games and eating ding-dongs. At some point in their near future there will be a cat-carrier, trip to the vet, and the premature end to their procreative lives, so I hope they enjoy their innocent carefree days while they can. Meanwhile we're calling the mama cat Molly after Molly Goldberg.