Monday, December 13, 2010

I feel this urge to apologize for not posting in a dog's age, but I'm going to resist. Just say that things have been full, and all the regular stuff of life continues: writing, teaching, reading, playing, working, thinking. And, very importantly, seeing movies.

We went to see Black Swan the other night, and it was over-the-top crazy-beautiful. natalie Portman's performance was exquisite and scary. She was like a rose, so delicate that just looking at her would make her petals fall off. An exquisite performance.

Right now, at my bedside, the following stack of books: Just Kids by Patti Smith. From Stones to Schools by Greg Mortensen, the three cups of tea guy. Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl, another amazing poetic play. She has so much to teach about having a light touch. I hope I learn the lesson someday. Positivity by Barbara Frederickson, a gift from a good friend, about how to court and nurture positive emotions.

I am completing the zillion plus one revision of The Recruiter (how many times have I written this?) I decided this play is like a bad boyfriend, the one who is not quite right, but you can't break up with. I feel like that woman who always tells her friends, "It's over," but then goes back. The friends are long since tired of the drama, they roll their eyes, under their breath they mutter, "Yeah, right." That's where I am with the play.

The book of poems on the other hand, really is getting better and stronger and closer to publication. (No! Really!) One of the poems, "Cathedral", was even solicited to be on a web site called And they are even going to pay me for it.

Meanwhile, the cat is biting his nails and I worry--is this normal? Is he anxious? He's our problem child--shreds the curtains, attacks his sister, chases his own tail--which is probably why i love him best.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Why do they call it Daylight Savings Time? I always think of it as Daylight Losing Time... after a week of indian summer, hot and balmy, we are now turning definitively toward the dark and cold. I know this time, like all times, contains the seeds for renewal. But this turning time is always a bit melancholy for me; the leaves are falling from the persimmon and the fig trees, the house is cold, my hands are cold as I type this, and I start counting down the days and weeks until Solstice. Six weeks. Not too bad.

And now it's also time to go back to the play, armed with all the comments and feedback I've received, to try to deepen it once more. In the meantime, I found a new name for the poetry manuscript, and sent it out again, to a bunch of contests. My father is amazed that I can keep doing this. I think it's habit by now, habit, stubbornness, doggedness. I am dogged even if I am dogless.

We went to see The Great Game: Afghanistan at the Berkeley Rep Theatre the other night. I had been so excited to see it, but I found the plays themselves somewhat flat. they seemed more issue-oriented than character-driven. I got: war is hell, Afghanis are suffering terribly, the situation for women is intolerable, and poppies are a cash crop... I already knew all that. What did I want? i was missing some kind of lightness, or humor, or theatricality, or...shoot me, whimsy. I remember seeing Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul, and yes, it was too long, but it was whimsical and crazy and funny as well as tragic, and it illuminated all of the issues I listed above. And it premiered in 2001, proving his prescience.

And now I hear my friend carla's voice in my ear: "Why are you sitting inside on a beautiful day? Go out and live, breathe, move! And so I will...

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I hope this link works! It's one of the Fetzer Institute pieces of video that they just published to their web site. If you go to the web site you can see and hear the other fabulous writers I was on retreat with last April: Jack Ridl, Naseem Rakha, Lauren Artress, Curtis Lumkin, Jennifer Louden, and others...big fun!

Fetzer Institute | Resources | Alison Luterman: Listening for Story | Alison Luterman: Listening for Story

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I came away from the brilliant movie The Social Network thinking, "Empathy is more precious than gold or rubies, it is the pearl without price, it is the only thing worth praying for."

Let me back up. In the movie, Jesse Eisenberg gives an amazing Oscar-worthy performance as Mark Zuckerberg, the genius who founded Facebook.He doesn't hit one false note that I could detect. He is every nerdy, hyper-intelligent, socially awkward, arrogant, isolated, pained Jewish boy I've ever known, rolled into one and heightened to an excruciating degree. The script is pitch-perfect. I have no idea how all this relates to the real Zuckerberg, but it doesn't matter, because the film is not a biopic it's a work of art.

The ending is of course, Zuckerberg as the world's youngest self-made billionaire--terribly alone. For all his genius he lacks that essential human quality of empathy which makes a human being whole. He might have a mild form of Asperger's syndrome--I don't know. It's not important what his diagnosis is. In many ways it is the illness of our age, the disconnection and subsequent narcissism that we all suffer from in varying degrees. (And yes, I'm aware of the supreme irony of blogging about this...)

The movie was produced by Trigger Street, which is the company that actor Kevin Spacey founded to promote quirky independent scripts. I think it's still operative at

This has been a rich week for creative inspiration. Friday night we went to the Berkeley Rep and saw Compulsion, the story of Mayer Levin's doomed battle to stage his dramatic adaptation of Anne Franks' diary. Mandy Patenkin was beautiful in the lead role, and the play was structured in such an innovative way, with marionettes and double--and in one case quadruple casting.

Both Compulsion and The Social Network were in a sense morality tales about what happens when genius and ego get tangled up. The headiness of having a vision and then the cost of that to the people close to the visionary, the collateral damage to relationships and sometimes to the soul of the creator.

It's such a poignant conflict because the act of creation (whether one is a genius or not) is as compelling as giving birth--caught in its throes you feel like it's the most important thing on earth at that moment--you have to push, and everything else becomes secondary. But once you have pushed--and the baby is born alive and healthy, or damaged, or dead--then you look around and notice that bills haven't been paid, gardens have gone unweeded, relationships untended, phone calls unreturned.

The cost of even producing a minor thing can be high--depending on the degree of compulsion, or drive or whatever you want to call it--and I can't even imagine what it takes to be the creator of something truly great, to sense that you have the world by the tail in that way, at least for that hour. How could one resist the seduction of that impulse, and how to return to tending ordinary life after that?

Both these pieces speak to the murky underside of great success. When a work like Anne Frank's Diary hits the world, or, on a much less morally profound but equal in terms of impact--Facebook--a work that generates a tsunami of attention and fame and money and glory--then I think inevitably things backstage must get messy. Because getting something that big launched into the world can never be solely the work of one person, there must be collaboration, support, people who got on board with the project early, others who came in later--and how do you compensate them all? Who gets to ride on the back of the elephant as it parades triumphantly through main street?

And how can we, as individual creators, not have our egos tied up in what we create?

My friend who is taking some classes at Stanford says the younger generation is working more collaboratively and less egotistically than we ever did. She says they all pitch in and work on each other's projects and don't seem to care so much whose name is attached. But whenever you have something like Facebook, which generates so much money, I think those generational differences fall away and things are bound to get nasty.

I should also say that what both Compulsion and the Facebook saga have in common is that they both center on Jews and the very contradictory qualities of brilliance and prickliness and apartness and universality that shape our cultural personality. The huge drive to "break in" to a world that seems closed, the outsider status, which was originally imposed on us by society and which we continue to resist and sometimes reinforce by our own attitudes and behavior. This feeling of otherness which also somehow lies at the very heart of being truly human.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I have been holding off on blogging for a bit because I wanted to brag on Christopher's Teacher of the Year awards night--and I have video to go along with the post, so it's not just idle chatter. But we have to figure out how to upload the cd to this blog, so I will save it for later. Suffice it to say that despite the fact that things are generally politically ecologically and economically going to hell in a handbasket, the younger generation is coming up, coming up, growing and learning and reaching and grasping, and there are wonderful teachers out there--not just Christopher, but of course, including him--who are meeting them with open arms.

By this I mean that all 18 of the teachers who were honored as Teachers of the Year from their respective schools were wonderful and inspiring. (And the special ed teachers seemed to love their work best of all.)

I had expected to be proud of Christopher; I had expected to eat high-fat hors d'oeuvres deep-fried and oozing with cream cheese; I had expected to put on some make-up and debate with myself about wearing heels (no, too uncomfortable.) I didn't expect to be so moved by everyone else's video presentation as well as my husband's. To see that even in this day and age when Obama's "Race to the Top" has replaced Bush's "No Child Left Behind" as a program that is supposed to look like educational reform but actually treats education more like a corporate business than a human endeavor, there are still men and women who wake up every day and spend their time listening, communicating, and inspiring young people.

And some of them have managed to hang onto their jobs even in this economy and are continuing to serve youth.

Some very good lives are being lived even in the midst of our current global mess; that is the good news. It's like the rescue of the Chilean miners, which was such an incredible high even to read about. See what we are capable of when we put our minds to it?

Now onto Franzen's Freedom. Spoiler alert: if you have not read the book and intend to, and/or if you are in the middle of the book and have not yet finished it, stop reading the blog now. Walk away from the blog. I don't want to wreck it for anyone. I like the book very much. It's not perfect but it's ambitious, big-hearted, sprawling, and in so many places heart-breakingly accurate about how we humans think, love, and act, that it definitely merits reading.

And for the record, I loved The Corrections. I mean, The Corrections was so good it was almost painful to read it. And I don't hold Franzen's arrogance against him. The man is brilliant, hard-working, and seems tortured. So he gets a little testy and is impolitic at times. There are worse sins.

But having said all that, I have to ask: why, when white writers write about characters of color are those characters more easily killed off than any of the white (central) characters? Why are the characters of color so... expendable?

In this book, more so than The Corrections, I felt like I could second-guess Franzen's personal prejudices. For one thing, the guy really believes in marriage. If two people get married, that's it. They may cheat on each other, but at the end of the day those are the bonds that will count. This has not been my experience in real life, so I accuse Franzen of being a old-fashioned and traditional and in that sense unrealistic. But whatever. My objection as a reader is that sensing this prejudice made the actions of the characters predictable in a way that I didn't want them to be.

But my main objection is with the character of Lalitha. I tried to imagine myself reading this if I were an South Asian Indian woman. We are expected to believe in Lalitha as a paragon of sexiness and drive (literally: she is always driving him everywhere), who is sexually and romantically besotted with her much-older boss, almost completely uncritical and patient and forebearing. Lalitha is a fountain of unconditional love and goodness until she is conveniently killed off (I'm sorry, I SAID spoiler alert) so that said boss can re-unite with his (very imperfect, fully-fomed character) (white) wife.

The white characters are allowed to be full human beings with flaws and warts. The Asian woman has to be perfect, and in the end she is sacrificed so that the dysfunctional white family can knit itself back together again in a more functional pattern.

Thanks Lalitha for all the great sex and all the good work; you can die now., putting myself in the shoes of the Indian woman, how do I feel about this?

Mad, I think. And tired. Hasn't this trope gotten a little old?

Please understand, I am not usually the kind of reader who goes out looking for politically incorrect things with which to crucify successful writers. I just couldn't help noticing, that's all. And unfortunately it's right in the center of this very ambitious, very successful, probably going to get nominated for the Pulitzer Prize winning book.

Just sayin'.

Monday, October 04, 2010

I can hear the birds chirping outside the window, and feel the sun coming through the curtains. I spent the weekend doing a Voice Medicine workshop with Trish Watts, a beautiful singer and Voice and Movement Therapist from Australia. It's hard to explain what Trish does exactly because she has such a vast array of tools to draw on in her work. Sometimes we were singing in harmony, sometimes we were chanting or toning, and sometimes we were working individually finding the animal and human voices within ourselves who wanted to speak, sing, growl, howl, whisper or scream.

I discovered within myself a great bird of prey. Melinda said it sounded like an eagle; the image I had was even bigger, like a velociraptor from the movie Jurassic Park. Huge. Fierce. Frightening. I had big heavy wings and emitted piercing bird squawks from my tail bone up through my shoulder blades/wings and out my nose. My beak.

It wasn't a pretty or a soft or even a noble image to me, but it felt true. I felt the impatience of the bird, the big, muscular impatience--so similar to my own. Impatience is my bugaboo. But can you blame the eagle--or whatever-it-was? It's hard to be confined to a small domestic life when you are made for soaring and planing and hunting and diving.

Trish worked with every single person in a completely unique way--and each person's session was radically different than the others'. She has a vast vocabulary of musical styles and voices in her own body to draw from and she did. I would have liked to work more on connecting the voices and images I found to my work, to writing, to art--that is the bridge that I need to make. To bring all that energy and ferocity into a form. But there were a lot of people, and not enough time.

The question I am left sitting with is where is the morality and compassion in the great bird? (Where is the morality and compassion in America, land of the eagle?)

I watched Trish work with other people, some of whom needed great doses of gentleness and tenderness which she supplied. Outwardly i was patient and still and attentive, but I was aware that my deepest impulses in those moments were to squawk and fly. I felt like the bird who kicks her babies out of the next. Blame it on menopause. It is not that I don't have a deep well of tears within myself, not that I don't like to nurture in a mammalian way. But there is this other, much more yang side which has a more ferocious agenda. I did not feel like a full-breasted mammal in those moments.

When I got home, Christopher was playing music with himself, thanks to the miracle of modern technology. He has filled our living room/dining room area with pianos, an organ, a drum-set, a full set of vibes, and he had some electric guitars plugged in as well. He also has a sound system/recording devices which allow him to lay down tracks, and then play harmonies with himself. He had laid down some basic tracks and was soloing on top of them; the space was filled with music. It sounded like a whole band was jamming together.

I crept past him into the kitchen, whispering, "Don't stop, don't stop." I didn't want to interrupt his creative process as he has so little precious time for himself. But a few minutes later he found me in the kitchen and invited me to join him. I had described for him how Trish had divided us into groups of three; one person held a drone, the other did a simple bass part (vocally) and the third did some solo scat singing on top of that.

"Would you like to improvise with me?" Christopher asked. I was scared. He is an accomplished musician and I have imperfect intonation and often wobble trying to find the right pitch. But I said yes, on the condition that I could be bad and make mistakes. He set up a mic stand for me, and sat at the piano. And I realized (thanks to the workshop) that I could do a simple bass part of a drone, or even a high harmony/bass (does that make sense? I mean, not a melody, not a complex scat, but what would be a bass part, only in a higher register) and let him do the fancy solo stuff on the piano.

And then words started coming through me, the beginnings of a song, and we really were improvising together!!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Back from an amazing weekend with No Nude Men Theatre..what is it? it's not exactly a company. It's more like a kind of federation. A loose conglomerate. A modular amoeba. Really wonderful thoughtful theatre people, so talented and versatile. Folks who can do stage combat, build a set, promote a show, light a set, figure out sound cues, write a play, direct--everything.

I realized that theatre is in its way a kind of religion for those who take it seriously. Not a religion in the God-sense--who would be the God or Goddess of Theatre? Shakespeare? Or some Greek or Roman deity?

But I don't mean religion in the sense of deity but of sacrifice and ritual. People come together to perform the ritual, night after night, of telling a story. If the story is great enough, if the intentions of all concerned are purified enough of ego and its attendant ills, then magic may ensue. The dead speak through us, the world changes a little; at least we who are doing it change, and hopefully the audience as well.

In that sense theatre is not so much about worshipping a God but of becoming a co-creator of a moment in time that stands apart. Whatever you want to call that.

And it does involve sacrifice, otherwise known as tech rehearsals, day jobs, not enough sleep, and junk food.

We were at a hostel in the beautiful Marin Headlands where it's uncharacteristically hot and bright. And on Saturday afternoon a bunch of us gathered in a big circle under an oak tree and read The Recruiter out loud.

Real actors. It was a trip. Of course as the playwright I was fixated on the lines and bits that didn't work. When one of the actors said to me afterwards that it was a great script I looked at her incredulously. But upon reflection...I think from seventy-five to eighty percent of what I had written worked. The other twenty, twenty-five percent I am revising. I got some wonderful, useful feedback.

Good actors never cease to amaze me. I think sometimes actors get a bad rap, and god knows the profession lends itself to some funny excesses. Actors have to be super-sensitive emotionally and at the same time have thick enough skins--or just plain stubbornness-- to endure public failure, rejection, and exposure. An odd combination of vulnerability and toughness. But what doesn't get talked about often enough is the emotional intelligence that borders on genius which good actors have. The ability to empathize immediately, deeply and physically with people they have never met--people who are not even real. They can believe in them so intensely they make them real.

Anyway, I got invaluable, honest, insightful feedback from at least half a dozen of them; not mere pats on the back, but ways to make the play better, mingled with appreciation for what's already there. And I can see the shape and the structure of it now, clear as day, emerging from the shed skins of all the innumerable drafts. This time I really think I've got it.

Friday, September 24, 2010

That feeling of badness. That I am in some way, a "bad person." I know it's ridiculous but I can never quite shake it. A constant kind of guilt and shame for the crime of--what? Just being. Guilt and shame are the hardest monsters i have to slay and I am not sure if they are slayable. It may be that the best i can do is try to turn them into house-pets.

All this is probably why I find it such a relief to create fictional male characters who have actually done terrible things, like kill other people. It's probably what drives me to write so much about war, which brings out the terrible (and occasionally the noble) in people. I don't identify as a helpless victim. i identify with the perpetrators, with the villains. I know that if I had been born male I would have been tempted to abuse the power given to me; I know that I have abused what powers I have at times.

Years ago I was a featured poet at the Logan poetry festival, along with Jimmy Santiago Baca. Jimmy had done hard time himself, and the organizer of this festival, Alan Cohen, had us visit a men's group at the local prison.

First we gave a reading in the main auditorium. The place was jammed--talk about a captive audience--men were practically hanging from the rafters. And they were rapt, attentive. I felt them drinking in every word we spoke.

Afterward, at the group where we shared our work more intimately, and talked to the men, and listened, an inmate said to me that what touched him about my poetry was that I seemed to believe that people were fundamentally innocent. That everyone deserved a second chance, that everyone could be forgiven.

I was so moved to hear him say that. I didn't respond with what the other half of that coin is: except for me. I believe everyone is fundamentally innocent--except I have a hard time seeing it in myself. Maybe because I can't feel every throb of other people's hearts where all the mixed motives and unpretty emotions are lurking the way I can feel my own; maybe because of the intensity with which my mother struggled with her own feelings of guilt and shame and the way she passed that unresolved battle down to me. Maybe because of internalized sexism or internalized anti-Semitism, or the right and true knowledge that as a middle-class American i consume an unethical share of the world's resources and contribute an unspeakable amount of waste and pollution to satisfy my wants and desires. Maybe all of the above, in varying degrees.

I don't know. What I do know is that this feeling of badness persists. Prozac quells it, hard exercise mitigates it, love soothes it, community assuages it, but it never quite goes away. When I interrogate it back to its source I often find relatively small things, petty social blunders, an unkind word here, an unwritten thank you note there, patterns of laziness and selfishness and wastefulness which are offset by bursts of energy in the opposite directions; attempts to clean up my act, which are heartfelt but unsustainable.

I think of this in an unconscious way all of the time, but when I read Jonathan Franzen I become conscious of it. The main character of his new book Freedom is a woman named Patty, unlike me in most ways--she's a jock turned stay-at-home mom, determinedly apolitical, fixated on her kids, doesn't care for the arts. But what's at her core is the same thing as what's at mine--this conviction of her own badness.

Franzen makes me see another aspect of the issue; that this feeling of badness may be part and parcel of self-awareness, self-consciousness. And also that part of what women label as "bad" and feel guilty about--in Patty's case, her competitiveness on and off the playing field for example--is merely a human quality that has been declared off-limits to women.

Patty is married to a very "good" man, as I am (although thankfully, Christopher is a lot more well-rounded and human than Walter Berglund, and I was physically smitten with him from the start), and her "good" husband keeps telling her that she too is "good" although Patty never completely believes him. She knows better. She knows the darkness in her own heart, the cracked places which can be papered over when you're in your twenties, but which emerge and split the house down to the foundations when you are in mid-life.

This is why I read Franzen, although I find him almost unbearably sad. His work hurts me so good. He's singing my song. Even though his song is of middle America, the big flat Midwest, of which I know little to nothing, even though his characters have followed different paths than my own weird trajectory, he gets something about the human heart that is painfully accurate.

I don't get the sense that he has transcended these questions himself. I think he's writing from the same tangled knot of confusion and failure and pain that informs most of his characters' lives. He's no Rumi in other words, and reading him does not alleviate my angst, it increases it. His books leave me simultaneously elated and depressed. I'm elated because he's put a finger on some of my murkier emotions, he's named a portion of the unnameable. I'm depressed because it's all too true and where do we go from here and God help us.

But I'll take him over any of the novelists who bring their characters around to fake resolutions and pat cheery endings. Not because I'm a masochist, (well, maybe I am, a little), but more because fake, forced "enlightenment" makes me even sadder.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Recruiter is finished!!! At least--this latest draft is. I finished it three days earlier than the deadline, which surprised me. And then this thing opened up--time. I have time. I'm not on deadline anymore. I can talk on the phone. I can saunter and amble and loaf. I can think about getting a job--a real job.

I went and got it copied, ten copies, for this weekend. Bought a birthday present for a friend. Made lasagna for C--from a recipe even! Accompanied him when he took Trixie to the vet for her follow-up shots. (Poor thing, she hated every single minute she spent in the car and let us know with piteous wails. You never heard anything so pathetic.)

I hope all this work was not for naught. Rebecca asked me the other week if I could take satisfaction just in having done it, to the best of my abilities. You know, intrinsic value rather than extrinsic reward and all that. I knew what she was aiming at, I saw her point and it was a good one.

But I had to answer her honestly: I want this thing to be produced. If it doesn't get produced somewhere somehow I will feel disappointed. I won't stop writing. I won't jump off a bridge. But you know--I put in the time and the work--and I would like to see it go all the way.

OI've written other things that never saw the light of day, of course. A novel that is, even as we speak, collecting dust in the basement. And a good thing, too. It simply wasn't good enough. I'm glad it's not out in the world with my name on it, even though there were pages and whole chapters that I thought were pretty good.

Many writers have unpublished novels, screenplays, playscripts sitting in drawers somewhere. And poems. god, only a fraction of the poems I write ever go anywhere. Lots and lots of them are composted. I've learned to live with it. nature is wasteful. Think of the figs smashed on the sidewalk in front of our house, leaving dark stains. Think of the trees that fall in the forest and no one ever hears them. it's all right you know. It's all right for life just to happen without a big parade and brass band announcing it.

Still, I would like this play to have a production. A good one. And more than one. If I'm honest I have to say that I'd like this thing to fly, all over the place. I'd like it to take on a life of its own.

Two kids just came to the door selling newspaper subscriptions to get into college. Mexican-Americans. The older one did all the talking. His parents were deported so he lives with his two younger brothers in an orphanage in Tracy. The little ones are five and six. The parents had come to this country as babies, but were picked up by INS and sent back, six months ago. This kid talked a mile a minute, very intelligent, very well-spoken. determined. He wants to get his own apartment when he's eighteen and raise his younger brothers by himself. He wants to get them out of the orphanage.

His friend was younger and more shy.

Christopher chatted with both of them, offering encouragement and listening. He bought a newspaper subscription.

After we closed the door behind them we just looked at each other. What must it have been like for those parents to have to leave three young children behind when they went back to Mexico? Why couldn't they take them with him? Is there more to the story than what he told us? I didn't even know about orphanages inside this country. Could we...?

We have the phone number of the orphanage.

Monday, September 20, 2010

We're in the process of adopting and taming another one of the outdoor feral kitties. I say "we"--it's 95% Christopher. He has sat patiently reading a book for hours in the musty garage, waiting for this new little one, (Wheat Thin) to trust him enough to come over and get petted. He's spent untold time rattling bags of kitty treats, tossing "crunchies" to the new baby, and gently scratching behind his ears. I went down there myself a few times. Once I saw him hiding in a cupboard atop stacks of old New Yorkers. Another time he was crouched behind the bicycles. Then again, he hides under the toolbench or in the laundry basket. The garage is full o' junk and he has a million hiding places.

Our thought is that this little boy will be a good playmate for Trixie who is currently Queen Bee of the household. The heartbreak is that the taming process involves separating him from his pal and twin shadow Dorian Gray. Dorian Gray is always going to be feral. She doesn't/won't allow herself to be touched; she's skittish and aggressive, while Wheat Thin is pliable and friendly.

Of course we think and talk about the kids Christopher encounters in his work. Those who want to learn and seem to have hope of turning their lives around; those who so far refuse contact.

People are more complex than cats (at least to me they seem to be; a cat person would disagree.) You can't predict what's going to happen with a young person based on how they appear at sixteen or eighteen; plenty of folks get their lives together after that. But you can say that there are consequences, and that these very early choices and decisions matter. (If they are indeed always choices, which I'm not sure they are. Sometimes it seems people are compelled to act out certain dramas before they have the freedom to choose another way. This is why a longer life can indeed be a blessing--sometimes you have to live out a certain amount of karma first.)

These early early choices can matter a lot. Especially if you're poor, if you don't have the luxury of infinite second and third and fourth chances. There are kids sitting in prison for crimes they committed at age fourteen or fifteen or sixteen. There are trajectories that are already set. There are young people enlisting in the military whose lives are hanging in the balance because of a piece of paper they signed.

The other night we were at a friend's house for break-fast after Yom Kippor (okay I wasn't fasting, but it's still fun to break it.) It was an intimate gathering of friends and family, including two teenage nephews. One of the boys was on the debate team and the conversation jumped from joy to grief to the nature of reality. Derrida was mentioned. True confessions: I only have a very vague sense of who Derrida actually is (one of those French philosopher guys, right?) But these kids knew. What's more, they knew the main thrust of Derrida's theories and could employ them, logically, in an argument. They could and did hold their own in a room full of opinionated adults. They could thoughtfully defend a point of view while at the same time acknowledging where other people were coming from; they could do this in the abstract.

In the midst of this lively intellectual melee, I looked over at Christopher. I knew what he was thinking. The kids he teaches have such small worlds, bounded by invisible ghetto walls and by the rules of the gang. It's uncool for them to show any interest in school, in ideas, in learning. It's uncool to read. He scours bookstores and sometimes toy stores for games and materials that will pique their interest. Sometimes he gets through.

But the kids whose company we were enjoying the other night are headed for Harvard or some other great college. They have a father who sings a blessing to them every night. They have had parental involvement and books and stability, good food, medical care and emotional support since they were born. They have never seen their father hit their mother, no member of their family has been arrested or murdered, they were not exposed to drugs in utero.

They were ahead before they even got started.

All kids should be able to have such a beginning. All kids don't need to go to Harvard. But the basics; food, medical care, freedom from fear--all kids should have those things before they're asked to learn. As a prerequisite for education. Do you hear me, Obama? Stop punishing the schools and the teachers and start looking at societal inequities.

Okay, it's much easier to ruminate on all this than it is to do my actual work. I have just fifteen or twenty more pages left of The Recruiter. You can do it, Alison, come on, you can do it...

Friday, September 17, 2010

So I'm at my doctor's, and she's feeling my boobs, and nagging me to get a mammogram. I'm not begrudging her the nag, it's her job--but by way of a cautionary tale she's telling me about one of her patient's mothers who was perfectly healthy until she showed up with breast cancer at the age of ninety.

Wait a minute. Ninety?

Well, everyone's got to die of something, I say. And then a minute later: I'm not even sure I want to live to be ninety.

Oh me neither, she says, palpating my mammaries. I definitely don't want to live to be ninety. That's why I smoke one cigarette a day and have heavy whipping cream in my tea.

I nearly fall off the table laughing.

Are you sure that's enough? I mean, maybe you should drive without wearing your seat belt or drink brandy for breakfast or something just to guarantee that you won't outlive your retirement income.

I know it's ridiculous, she says. Now raise your arms above your head for me, and press the palms together.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I wish all the people who are against gay marriage could have seen the wedding we attended last weekend, between two good friends of mine. S and E have lived together nine years. They've seen each other through medical crises (brain surgery, anyone?), the serious illness of family members, world travel, and job changes. Two very different people--one impulsive and mystical, the other methodical and careful--they've been a model for me as they demonstrate how to negotiate a loving relationship.

As I struggle with the $64,000 question, "How can I be myself and be married to someone who seems at times so different, so other," they have been my inspiration. I have seen them patiently, honestly, lovingly work through conflicts that at times seemed unworkable, negotiate, and come up with elegant solutions. I have seen them both grow as individuals and evolve as a couple for nine years before this ceremony. I have witnessed their fierce commitment to keep evolving.

As E's mother remarked afterward, "I don't think there was a dry eye in the house," when they said their vows. The love was palpable. Each celebrated the kindness, compassion, strength, and playfulness the other brought to their union. I have been to many great weddings, and none better than this. Their families were also so present and accounted for; E's young nephew brought down the house when he sang a song, "which some of you may know 'cause it's from the '80s," he explained, in deference to the ancientness of many in the audience. Both sets of parents toasted and officially welcomed their new "daughter" into the family. Families like these show what kind of world could be possible, for all of us.

Also, and not incidentally--everyone was having a hell of a good time. Dancing, singing, mingling. C took about a million photos and they also had an official photographer there, so it was a well-documented fest.

If anyone wants to put this marriage up against Pam Anderson marrying the latest guy to pay her gambling debts in Las Vegas, feel free. As for me, I'm going to continue to seek wisdom and inspiration from people who have done the hard good work of learning how to communicate, how to be independent and yet intimate, honest and kind, fully themselves and also fully engaged with each other.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Lively discussion last night in my writing class about how "writing is hard!" I consider that when someone says that it means that they are doing it right. (Yes, I am a New England Puritan, why do you ask?)

I think writing is hard, the way marriage is hard., the way parenthood is hard, the way anything worthwhile is hard. Hard in that it throws curve balls at you and asks things of you and pulls things out of you above and beyond what you'd "rationally" give if you were not a thousand percent committed.

It's not rational to rewrite the same ten pages a hundred times, but sometimes you do it. It's not rational to keep sending out a poetry manuscript to dozens of contests a year at twenty-five dollars a pop for entry fees, knowing that your chances are less than one in a hundred, and it may take years to get accepted, and yet you do it. It's not rational to sit on your butt, inside, on a bright sunny day, with the wide bright world whirling around without you, and try to wrestle the lines of a poem into some kind of pleasing order.

And yes, all that is hard, but for whatever strange mix of reasons, some of them lofty, most of them not--you feel compelled to do it. Hard, but not doing it would be harder.

And of course writing is not hard compared to sifting through a garbage dump in Sao Paulo, looking for food or bits of scrap metal, as thousands of people have to do. It's not hard compared to wearing an 80-pound pack and sweating up a hill in Afghanistan, knowing that you could be shot at or blown up at any moment. Not hard compared to...well, you get the idea. It's a privileged complaint, and we all admit it.

The pleasures of reading and writing--when the writing is going well--are incomparable. I spent all day yesterday on the couch with a good book. Skipped my workout, didn't go to the post office to mail my manuscripts, just read and read and read deeply into another person's life. It can be like that. Addictive. then there are the days when it is like trying to shovel through an iceberg using only your mind as a pick-axe. At best you make only a few slushy dents, your mind gets awfully tired and sore, and at the end of the day the glacier is still there, as God intended.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Run, don't walk, to go see Winter's Bone, if it is playing anywhere near you. Spare. Haunting. Bleak. Human. Humbling. The physical world, the hills and woods of rural Missouri are a brooding presence in this film. And the characters stayed with me long after the movie was done.

It's about--among other things--poverty in backwoods America, the kind we don't usually see. The hidden-away poverty of white people. Shooting squirrels to eat them. Frying potatoes in lard. Women all wearing the same beat-up jeans and flannel shirts. You can practically smell them. Bad home dye jobs. Bad teeth. Heavy women who can fork hay and split kindling and use a power saw and dodge a punch.

Their world is lodged in my gut right now like a piece of undigested squirrel pie. I don't know what to do with it. The fine bony faces, like Abraham Lincoln's. That's C's bone structure. Long thin hands fingering a guitar or a banjo, sitting on a woodpile. My people are urban, sociable, chatty, soft. These people are flinty and taciturn, full of hidden depths. I don't know the code, but I can see that there is one.

It reminds me of the month I spent living on an Indian reservation a lifetime ago, when I got thoroughly laughed at for my citified ways. When I learned to split kindling and build a fire in a wood stove, and haul water from a creek. A month of that and I was through. No books, no magazines. There was a peace there that remains in my memory. And the people, especially the women; tough, vulnerable, wounded. They scared me a little. They move me.

My computer is in the shop and I'm trying out C's Mac to see if I would prefer to get one of those rather than the PC's I have always had. I've been working obsessively on the poetry manuscript for a few days and now it's time to turn back to the play. If anyone has an opinion about Macs vs. PC's I'd be happy to hear it.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The full moon has brought fullness--long intimate talks with so many people, old friends and new. Today, a walk in the woods with a friend of thirty years, from my VISTA days, and his wife. The sun hot and dry, insects making clicking sounds in the dessicated Queen Anne's lace, the sky a rich Delft blue. We walked and talked and sweated happily, and then went out and stuffed ourselves full of Mexican food at a little dive-y place a few blocks from our house.

Life is so sweet sometimes, when things come around in the fullness of time. This friend has seen me and I have seen him through more than one death: my mother, his mother, his former fiance, my ex-husband, and friends taken before their time. And here we are still alive, still walking around on strong legs, still drinking coffee and giving each other shit, still recognizably something of the young naive people we were when we met. And life is good.

Which makes today's announcement of a judge shutting down Obama's expansion of the stem cell research program particularly odious. If stem cell research had proceeded apace during the Bush years, my friend Carla might be walking around and drinking in this beautiful day. If stem cell research had gotten going, all the people with M.S. and ALS and cancer and diabetes might have hopes of a healthier life. How can that be bad? How can religious wing-nuts deny scientists the right to at least try to heal some of these terrible diseases?

Friday, August 13, 2010

The first act of The Recruiter is solid at last, at last, thanks in no small part to my stalwart friend Rebecca, who not only read several drafts cheerfully and thoroughly, but commented on the lines in red font, cheering me on when I had hit the right tone, and chiding me when I fell asleep at the wheel.

If it takes a village to raise a child--which I believe it does--and it takes a city to assist a disabled and/or dying person, which I know from being with my mother and with Carla, it takes, I don't know, at least a soccer team to see a work of art through to completion. You need several kinds of friendly readers. At least one person should fall into the cheerleader rah-rah you go girl, I love every word that falls from your pen category. This is because writing is fucking hard and it also requires the writer to become solitary and occasionally delusional. A friend like this comes in at that delicate moment right after the birth, looks at the butt-ugly screeching hairless newborn covered with blood and mucus, and declares it the most gorgeous infant the world has ever seen. You can't put a price-tag on that kind of support.

But then--later--you also need critical-but-kind readers, people who are discerning and care about literature, and perhaps work in its minefields themselves, so they can be clear about what works and doesn't work without being catty or cruel. they are the ones who point out that your baby's arms are on backwards, or that it hasn't got a nose, and they manage to do this without shaming you. When after multiple drafts, you actually get the thing breathing--at least a little, at least through one nostril, they are as happy as if it were their own child who was going to make it.

I got lucky in my choice of family, as most of us are bookworms. My dad and stepmother are cheerleaders--they love almost everything (although Dad doesn't like things that are too dark or too overtly sexual, big surprise. Still, if he doesn't like something much he'll just mildly say, "It's not as good as your last one.") In general though, if I sneezed and sent him the Kleenex full of snot, he would forward it to all his friends with a proud note: Look what my daughter did!

My sister and my sister-in-law who are both raising young children and don't have time to sit around writing thesis-length emails are very supportive but not afraid to say when something doesn't work for them. I usually don't get lengthy critical analysis from either of them, but "This worked for me," or "Not so much. I didn't get it." A few non-writer friends also fall into this category: concise pithy feedback, supportive but honest so I know I can trust it.

Then there are the doubting Thomases, the devil's advocates, the supporters who make you work your fanny off. They might be called the sparring partners who make you better, the Tough lovers, the Worthy Opponents. Not to make too many sweeping generalizations about gender here, but in my life, these tend to be male. Gay, straight, it doesn't matter. I think this is how men have often been socialized to relate to each other, and so when they do it to you--to me--it's kind of a compliment, like "See, I'm treating you like one of the boys."

They don't do the soften-the-criticism-with-a-compliment-sandwich thing that women do; you know, "I really liked x and y, but z seemed problematic to me. overall though, I think you have a great piece!" We women have had that rubric so ingrained in us that it can be a bit shocking when the critic-friend just circles in on z. But I think guys--and women who are socialized like them--assume that you already know the stuff that's working and they don't--shouldn't--have to hold your hand about it.

I've learned over time, not to take this personally, and just to be grateful for any response. We're all busy and distracted and if anyone gives some of his or her valuable time and attention to my piece, that's a huge gift. And I am a social creature--I can't work in isolation. I don't produce without some kind of feedback.

I warned a new writer-friend that I suffer from premature ejaculation when it comes to hitting the send button on drafts that are upon reflection, still rough--but that's how I am. I don't mind people seeing my dirty laundry or my ragged line breaks or mushy plots. Some of my friends have said that this approach of mine gives them courage in their own creative process, to be imperfect and to allow others to see them that way. other people have candidly told me that they wish I could contain myself more, send out fewer drafts, learn to edit myself more on my own.

Which is kind of a metaphor for how I am in life, of course--I'm the driver who will pull up next to a pedestrian and ask for directions instead of consulting a map, which drives Christopher crazy. But--sue me--my eyes are weak and I like talking to people. I don't trust maps or GPS or any of that half as much as I trust living breathing humans and their wisdom which comes from all kinds of interesting places inside them. Basically I'm writing in order to be in relationship. So there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

There's a recurring dream I have about owning another house--a house I've neglected, a house I've forgotten about. A house that might be sliding into disrepair, a house that needs tending. A house of many rooms.

I go to the "other" house and I walk around in it, exploring--oh look, there's a whole new wing I'd completely forgotten about! Maybe I will sleep here now. The rooms are big! The dreams are somewhat exciting, but also slightly disturbing. Im wealthier than I thought--two houses! But what a responsibility. I should have been taking care of my extra house, weeding the garden, keeping up with it. Maybe I owe taxes on it, maybe it needs a new roof.

Being a writer is like living in two houses at once, two lives at once. If you're living in the writing life, chances are good that you're neglecting something in your other, "real" life. If you're managing to work (a little), earn some money, go shopping, get some exercise, see a few friends, buy birthday presents for your family, keep up with the bills, your other house languishes.

You need both houses. Both require care. You can't afford to completely forget about either of them, and yet you can't spend your time neurotically running back and forth between them, either--that won't work. You have to move as gracefully and deliberately as possible between your two living situations as you can.

But of course it's never really all that graceful. Like a child whose parents are divorced, or a person with a lover in another city, you always forget a toothbrush or a sock or a pair of glasses. You always leave a little piece of yourself behind. And if you neglect either of them for too long, your dreams come back to haunt you.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

We went to Mendocino and I taught at the Mendocino Coast Writer's Conference, a sweet gathering of writers who congregate at the College of the Redwoods in Fort Bragg to read, write, and learn together. It was an intense time for both Christopher and me; we were both raw and emotional. The sea was wild, the fog thick. We wandered through the historic botanical gardens and when we stumbled across a tiny family cemetery--just a couple of weedy gravesites, including one for a toddler child--I burst into tears, which is not really like me.

By day I taught and grew close to my students. At night we ate big rich Mendocino dinners and drank wine. I had a blackberry mojito. Our hosts were an extraordinarily gracious couple who live in a beautiful house in the redwoods, full of art and fine woodwork and books. We had a wood-burning stove in our room.

Home now, and back at work on The Recruiter. I've had to tear it apart--really apart--abandon all hopes of retaining much of anything from my previous structure and rebuild from Ground Zero. I'm at Ground Zero now, again. It's a familiar place. I've had to kill my darlings. All my darling hard-won, hard-fought scenes.

I feel like the prize goes to the one who can endure this process, who can just keep coming back to the work "even though I fail and fail again," as poet Lucille Clifton says, "because I am adam and his mother/and these failures are my job."

That's it, exactly. These failures are my job. Bring it on.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The visit with the parentals was very sweet, although the toilet issue was not satisfactorily resolved and we ended up with the old toilet back in place until a better fit could be found. But we had a great time--saw the movie, The Kids Are All Right, ate at Millenium, and hosted a musical gathering for them, so they could enjoy all our talented friends. We had piano, organ, guitar, bass, drums, viola, vocals, and when Bobby showed up, some dreamy sax. And barbecue, chili, and beer. Dad and my stepmother had a beautiful time, and were serenaded and honored.

And now it's back to work mode. I've been stressing about these workshops at the Mendocino Coast Writer's Conference--I taught there five years ago or so--maybe it was more like seven years ago--and it went fine, but sometimes I forget that I know what I know and I freak out and feel the need to re-invent the wheel. hence a 14-page lesson plan for one of the workshops, and a six-pager for the other. Hence some sleepless moments in the middle of the night.

I actually know that it will be fine, it always is, my workshops at Rowe were great this spring, but the people-pleasing co-dependent in me who thinks nothing is ever good enough is activated and on the alert. And all this over-preparing is taking me away from The Recruiter which is shaping up in really interesting, disturbing, and I think (I hope!) authentic ways.

We have also been watching the wonderful HBO series John Adams starring Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney--we finished it the other night after I insisted we watch all the special features which ended up taking us up to 1 in the morning. It's such phenomenal storytelling, and gives such a brutal, unsparing look at the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries--mastectomy without anesthesia anyone? What do teeth look like in a sixty-year-old who has had no real dental care?

The show raised more questions in me than it answered: I wondered especially about Thomas Jefferson who seemed a man of such great contradictions. Elegant, refined, brilliant--and a slave-owner. How could he hold the radical ideas about human rights and freedom which he wrote about and have the life he had? I went on-line and read a bit about him--six children born to his beloved wife, who died after the sixth birth--most of the children did not survive either. Death upon death upon death. The losses and trauma these people endured are incalculable. And this is our heritage. this is the basis on which our country was formed.

The Adams' also, were brilliant people but terrible parents. John's four children didn't fare well--two died alcoholic, his daughter died of breast cancer in her 40s after suffering the tortures of the damned. the son who became President, john Quincy Adams, described himself as a "cold rigid martinet." Two of his sons committed suicide in their twenties. Family patterns of depression and alcoholism, and cold, distant parenting ran through their descendants like blight.

It raises the age-old question, whether greatness is worth the sacrifices it entails? Would it be possible for a person to be happy and great, to attend to his or her intimate relationships, family, and some other worthy project without cheating anything of time or attention? They Adams', both husband and wife, put "duty to country" before their own children, with terrible results. But one could put "art" or "spiritual practice" or any other thing in there as well.

Meanwhile, we've been following with interest the Wikileaks revelations about Pakistan and Afghanistan. Does this mean we will pull out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later, and spare some service-people's lives? I hope so. I love Obama, (yes, I still do, I don't care if he's not perfect, and has been extremely disappointing in some ways, I still love him). But I have been concerned about his stance on Afghanistan ever since the campaign in '08. This is the wrong place to try to look tough or get tough. No one has ever beat the Afghans in their own country. It's a losing proposition. We should cut our losses and get out now before we sacrifice any more soldiers' lives to this futile war.

Also, Mr. Obama, while I have your ear, you need to soften up on the rhetoric around schools and "performance." A school is not a stock portfolio, or a professional corps de ballet. it doesn't "perform." It educates, nurtures, inspires, and provides a sustaining community for young people as they grow. At least that's what it's supposed to do. Again, this is the wrong place to try to sound tough. Save your toughness for those crazy Tea Partyers or something. Remember yourself as a teacher, and the societal problems they must address daily. Get back on their--on our--side, where you belong.


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Preparing for my father and stepmother's visit by getting and installing a new toilet...hmmm...perhaps this wasn't the best idea. Oddly-shaped guest bathroom, meaning most conventional toilets won't fit. Sweat and cursing. Christopher made a trip back and forth to the toilet store. I sit glued to the screen on a beautiful summer day, working on the revision of The Recruiter. Page by page, creeps on this petty pace. We have been watching a lot of historical dramas: the Lion in Winter, Becket, Man for All seasons, and John and Abigail Adams. I love history! But it's so hard to walk through it a page at a time, giving voice to every side. I'd say this writing business was like walking through a blizzard except murkier. Tomorrow night I'm going to see Restrepo with a new friend.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Sadly, Blake/Belle (turned out he was Blake, being male) had feline AIDS and did not survive his trip to the vet. That leaves three of his immediate siblings, plus half a dozen adult feral felines in the back yard to deal with.

Roofers start tomorrow, tearing off our old leaky roof and putting on a new one with solar panels so we are bracing ourselves for a noisy few days.

Meanwhile, I finally managed to write the new opening scene for The Recruiter, and everything started flowing from that. It only took me four or five months to absorb and accept the advice I had paid Corey Fischer to give me. I was so attached to the opening as I had originally written it, and to my original structure.

But Corey was right; it's better to start the play in the middle of the lead character's conflict. I now have a revised first act that is halfway decent, but I'm still struggling with the problem of making the characters do things on stage, rather than just stand there and talk (although Tony Kushner certainly gets a lot of mileage from characters standing and talking--one of the main characters in Homebody/Kabul sits in an armchair and discourses for a full hour for the whole first act, for God's sake. On the other hand, that play wasn't considered his most successful, although I liked it.)

Today i got to go to a workshop conducted by Marie Howe, who wrote The Good Thief, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time and What the Living Do. It was extraordinary. What a great teacher she is, relaxed, unhurried, but precise and on-the-pulse accurate.

I am a pretty tough sell as a student; I want a teacher to take me somewhere I can't get to on my own, and I already know how to set deadlines for myself, stay motivated, and kick my own ass. It's got to be more than that. She exceeded my expectations. The exercises were rigorous enough to be challenging, yet she held us to being dumb beginners, which is the only way you get anything fresh. She was not just trying to give us "poem-products"--which is a great temptation for me when I am teaching, just to give students something satisfying they can take home and say, "here's what I made today"--instead she aimed deeper, she was trying to teach us a new way of approaching seeing the material we include in our poems.

Her focus was on direct observation, suspending judgment, interpretation and metaphor for as much and as long as we could. Some of what she talked about was stuff I also teach--the value of repetition in the making of a poem, for instance--but she had a powerful integrated philosophy behind her choices, and a great selection of sample poems, several of which were new to me. In all a great day and a tiring one. I feel like I ran a six-hour marathon when all I did was sit in a low folding chair in Laurie's living room and drink inky strong coffee and listen intently and scribble.

Friday, July 02, 2010

I am reading Brian Turner's great book of poetry Here, Bullet, about war and soldiering, Iraq and Afghanistan, life and death and suffering, and it is instructing me and humbling me as I work on the umpteenth revision of The Recruiter. It makes me think of what W.C. Williams said: "You cannot get the news of the day from poems, although men die miserably for lack of what is found there." In this case, I do feel like I get important news from his poems, in a way that brings it home much more urgently and viscerally than the news accounts and even the very good, first-person journalism I've also been reading.

I'm also Novella Carpenter's funny, inspiring, well-written Farm City, adventures of an urban farmer, which is what I someday aspire to become even though I have a black thumb and have killed all but the most hardy of the house-plants (and porch plants) acquired over the years. My Dad has patiently taken me to a nice nursery, and also to Home Depot; he bought me some big planters, and some herbal starts and, well--let's just say that everything can be recycled. Right?

But we were given some beautiful pink heather as a gift, and after neglecting it for a few weeks I finally took it out of its pot and put it into the ground under the fig tree--it likes shade, the little pointy sign said--and watered it, and lo and behold, it has put forth some new bright pink spears! The sight of them makes me so happy that I here and now resolve to turn over a new leaf and start watering things, because what do you know? It really works!!

We are also probably getting a new addition to our household: Christopher is at the vet right now with another of the feral kittens--one of the more sociable ones, who let itself be caught. (Haven't been able to sex it yet, hence: it.)

After getting spayed or fixed, if it's possible, we'll take it in as a brother or sister playmate for Trixie. I got the honor of giving it a name: Blake if it's a boy, Belle if it's a girl. (Trixie-Belle--get it?) Inspiration for the name Blake came from a new novel that's just been published, Her Fearful Symmetry.

The title, of course, is taken from the poem by William Blake: "Tyger, tyger burning bright/In the forests of the night/What immortal hand or eye/Could frame thy fearful symmetry?" Since this kitty and Trixie are both dark-gray tiger-striped, (and both uncommonly handsome), it seems to fit.

It seems strange to be so excited about tiny things like a flower coming back from the almost-dead or a new kitty, when all around us there are the so-much-bigger things that like the Gulf oil spill, or the verdict on the killing of Oscar Grant (which all of Oakland is nervously awaiting), or the war(s) going on around the globe, or the recession (depression? when are they going to use the d-word?) going on. But these little bits of life which we can nurture and enjoy are made even more important in the face of so much we cannot control. And they teach us something important too--how resilient and fierce life itself is, how there is a whole reality going on behind and beyond the headlines which is bigger and stranger, and better than anything we read in the papers.

Monday, June 28, 2010

In Wing It! practice today, we moved to memories of large bodies of water. We told stories of large and small mistakes we had made. We recounted times of cleaning up messes. All in attempts to break through the isolating pall the Gulf oil spill has cast over us. I mean for the first, oh, month the thing was happening, I would check the papers every day waiting to hear that the leak was plugged. Slowly, it dawned on me: no one knows what they are freaking doing out there. How do we live with this knowledge? Some of us turn away, because the powerlessness is unbearable. There are thousands of ways to turn aside.

Phil, our director, led us on an incremental journey into being able to just touch some part of this huge elephant that has been sitting in the living room of our national consciousness for--how long has it been now? More than two months?

Meanwhile, I read in Sunday's Times about how intelligent whales and dolphins are. (The article is by Natalie Anger if anyone wants to google it.) Human brains are three pounds each; the brain of the sperm whale is 18 pounds. Dolphins can recognize themselves in a mirror and are interested in looking at the parts of themselves they can't normally see (apparently they check out their teeth and their "anal slits" according to Anger.)

It has been hard for me to really grapple with what is happening on the Gulf. I see the headlines like everyone else--I look at the pictures of marine life covered in black oil and tar, I feel sickened and I turn the page. Or click on something else, anything else, to distract myself. It felt good, finally, to be able to share that. And then to be asked to recall good memories of a large body of water.

I love to go boogie boarding on a tiny family beach in Bolinas. It costs hardly anything to rent a wet suit and a board and spend the day in the waves. I could easily recall the wonderful feeling of being tumbled in the surf--surrendering my body completely to the waves and the current, using my board as ballast and floating and kicking to a sandbar where I collapsed on my back and watched the sky. Heaven.

I also remember snorkeling (and one time, scuba diving) in Florida and once in Hawaii, and being completely immersed in that other floating world. I feel most truly myself in the water--it is impossible not to love my body completely there. in the water there is no such thing as too fat--you are floating, nothing is sagging or pinching or pounding. It is all softness and liquid grace, it's the back to the womb place, unbounded spiritual home, primordial bliss.

When I touch the tragedy in the Gulf from that place of remembering--maybe I am remembering my own origins, eons ago, as a sea-creature, before my first ancestress crawled up onto the land, then I can actually touch it, what is happening. It is no longer just a terrible news item, or an abstract political idea. It becomes my own salty blood and my breath, my own slick skin.

That is the politics I am interested in now. I know all the liberal-left positions; I hold them; I have opinions, I vote, I sometimes (rarely) write letters to politicians, or editors, and sometimes I even write essays. But fulminating on current events interests me less and less. My opinions, your opinions, assigning blame, prescribing pre-packaged solutions. We're living in an oil-based culture, I'm driving a car and buying consumer goods just like everyone else, and I know that we're all responsible. And it's an ongoing struggle to change and blah blah blah, and you know, we might make it--we might change in time--or we might not.

I think that what Interplay is searching for is a politics of embodiment. To reclaim feeling as a source of information, alongside the constant stream of news bits and bytes we are all swimming in. Feeling and movement versus overwhelm and talking heads. It's not in itself a solution, but for me it beats numbness and paralysis.

For example: in practice today, Phil had us tell each other the story of what happened with the BP disaster using gibberish, a made-up language. What a relief! I have already talked enough and heard too much in English about this thing. It was time to blow it all out with sounds--grunts, wails, whispers, mutterings. As Phil said, time for old-fashioned lamentation. Analysis has its place, but it also has its limits.

That's all I can say about it for now. Unfortunately, I won't be able to make our performance on August 3, because I'll be teaching. It should be great though.

The garden under the full moon smells like heaven. Jasmine and datura, and our tenant's little kitchen garden of lettuces, tomatoes, arugula and cilantro. Feral cats stalk our back yard like ghosts, coming and going, hoping every time the back door opens that it is someone (Christopher) bearing food. It isn't. It's me, come out to water the tomato plant.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The photograph on the front page of today's (Sunday's) New York Times is one of the most poignant images I have ever seen captured by a camera. A soldier bound back for Afghanistan is slumped against the wall at the airport, his young wife dozing on his shoulder. He is holding his six-month old baby and gazing at him with such love and such sadness--you can see that it is killing him to leave his family. That picture is worth a thousand million words of anti-war rhetoric. It shot right through my heart.

Saying anything more about it almost seems obscene. I don't know how the photographer got such an unbearably intimate shot. If you haven't seen the paper, go find a copy.

Monday, June 21, 2010

I am loving just being home these days. Even though we hauled out our calendars and made a few plans. Even though the wide world beckons and there are workshops to go to, and places to go and people to see. Even though life is short--no, because life is short, right now I just wanna be with the one I love best, learning to pick out "Summertime" on the piano, reading back issues of The Sun, and Stanley Kunitz and Anne Carson, working on 10-minute plays, watching Netflix movies and making love. The sense of the luxury of time is so amazing.

During the school year we rise and sleep by the alarm clock; it goes off at 6 a.m., and C is out the door before 8. He comes home and crashes down for a nap. We talk, of course, but there isn't enough time for the truly significant conversations. Sensitive topics are generally tabled to await the weekend when there will be time. The weekend arrives and there are errands, I teach a class, we read the paper, and it's over.

Now, in summer, the long gentle balmy evenings stretch out before us. And there's time to read and write and paint and play and stare at the moon and just be. And more and more I just want to be with C which scares the ever-living daylights out of me because I don't believe couples "should" be a world into themselves. I don't believe in putting all my eggs in one basket. What if he dies? He will die, someday--I hope many years from now, but you never know. I still love spending time with my friends. But C is not just my husband he's also a creative collaborator. He's the one I like to talk over new projects with, the one I like to go on nerdly learning dives, googling writers and films and Roman history or some composer or artist and learning everything we can about them.

More and more, we are holding each others' histories. A friend told me it took about five years of being in an intimate relationship to really re-wire one's nervous system and heal old old wounds of disconnection. We're three years in now. I also think that it takes seven years to be truly married. i don't care what the state says or does, what propositions get passed or overturned (although of course I want Prop 8 to be overturned.) But if you ask me the real law of nature is seven years.

I went and saw Giant Bones the other night, directed by my friend Stuart Bousel of No Nude Men theatre. It's based on a book by Peter Beagle. It was a beautiful, entertaining production, done in a small space with a dedicated band of actors playing multiple roles brightly and with total commitment. I particularly appreciated the metaphor of the giant bones themselves, the bones of myth and the old old stories which we artists and humans must digest and make our own in every generation.

I'm loving both classes that I'm teaching through Writing Salon, the personal essay and poetry. Next semester I repeat both of them and add a class in the 10-minute play which should be great fun as well. If anyone is reading this who lives locally, you can sign up at

We saw the movie about Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky the other night which was gorgeous to look at and to listen to. I'm not sure exactly what the point of it was, other than creativity and eros, which go hand in hand for me as well, but it was visually sumptuous and striking and made me want to go out and buy a bottle of Chanel Number 5 immediately.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

I am my own little creative mosh pit these days, new ideas and poems head-butting into each other. Last night I had a breakthrough of sorts, discovered a way to handle the line in a poem where every line became an entity unto itself, with its own complete music. I've been wanting that a long time--my lines have always felt awkward and choppy, but something shifted and finally came together at midnight last night after Christopher made an offhand remark and it triggered a little mental fireworks display in my brain.

Times like that, writing becomes wild and new again instead of a hard slog through endless revisions. Now I want to write more more more poems in this "new" voice I'm discovering, which is just my same old voice, only more nuanced and developed and cadenced. I can feel a bunch of new/old material that I always had but didn't realize was usable opening up its possibilities...

Sometimes the music inside my cells gets very complex. I'm juggling poems, and short (10-minute) plays right now, while holding the bigger play loosely at bay, plus teaching: two classes ongoing, three more slated to start later this summer, and vacation plans...

And reading. Anthologies of 10-minute plays, since I will be teaching them shortly if the class fills, the poetry of Marie Howe, Stanley Kunitz, Three Cups of Tea, and War and Peace--no, I'm not kidding--is sitting there fat and unopened as a whole long summer stretches before us. And Christopher's got The Girl with the dragon Tattoo which I may wrestle away from him. I don't read novels much because once they get their hooks in me I'm a goner. Nothing else gets done until I finish them, and there's too much I have to get done.

Christopher hates it when I use the word "calendar" as a verb, but that's what we've been doing. Sitting on the couch with our datebooks open, scheduling the summer away. We are thinking of going to Manzanar. I know it is the wrong time of year to go to the desert. Maybe we should just go to Yosemite and camp. I want to be out in the trees, sit in the dirt, look at the sky, cook over a little Bunsen burner, float down a river wearing an inflatable life jacket. That's all. That's enough. But it's so freaking complicated just to get our datebooks to align enough to do that!

I'm not actually working much, compared to a normal person--that's what I always think, not sure exactly what normal people i am referring to, since I don't know any, but you know what I mean, people who have 9-5 Monday through Friday jobs. I'm not working 40 hours a week. The problem is I work weekends and evening and other odd times. The problem is that my attention is all snipped up in little tiny pieces like confetti. I spend hours just trying to keep track of myself, or running errands while simultaneously holding lightly the starting line of the next poem, the way a kid holds a worm in his pocket all day in the hope that he might get an hour in the evening to go fishing.

I have flown across country three times this spring to various workshops (plus two local weekend ones), and it was not until just this past Thursday, when I was back in the pool swimming half a mile again finally, that I finally felt my body relax gratefully back into rhythm. This is what home means to me: 36 lengths of the pool, and the predictable warmth and good tiredness in my arms and shoulders afterward. This is where and how I land. Amazing how long it takes to get there.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Carla's memorial was amazing. More like one of her benefit concerts than a funeral, complete with beautiful music by her "guys," David Rokeach, John Burr and John R., and by Kaila Flexer, and W. Allen Taylor, and two jazz standards sung by her brother Jason (who knew he was such a great singer!) plus one of her original songs sung by Maclen.

It's when Maclen was singing that I personally lost it. She had wanted her memorial to be more laughs than tears, and on balance, I believe it was, although who is holding the scales at a time like that? She'd also instructed her women friends to dress as if for the funeral of an ex-husband whom they were suspected of murdering, i.e. tacky and tawdry and sexy.

Her caregivers did their best, in red lipstick, tight dresses, and outrageous hats. They sat in a row together, sipping at bottles of Budweiser in brown paper bags and alternately laughing and sobbing in each others' arms.

I read a poem by, well, me, which Carla had asked me to do a few weeks before she died. Allen Taylor read a beautiful poem by Naomi Shihab Nye called "Happiness," which perfectly epitomized Carla's spirit and her unconditional joy.

Carla was a huge and serious lover of poetry. True, she had an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and cheesy television shows, including The Mod Squad and 24. True she could recite many many SNL skits verbatim. But she also had read and deeply contemplated so many poems by Rumi and Hafiz and Naomi Shihab Nye and others that she could quote them at length--and of course she had memorized vast tracts of Shakespeare. I often inflicted "hot off the press" poems on her as I was working on them, and she was always enthusiastically receptive.

Here's the link to the news bit about her memorial. Only a tiny portion of her "farewell video from Heaven" is excerpted on the TV program. There's a lot of it that could never be broadcast on a regular station due to the language: ("Look! There's JFK and Marilyn, f*&%king on that cloud!") It makes me chuckle to think of the television execs viewing the footage and trying to find two minutes without profanity that they could actually use. I imagine (I hope) a complete version of the video will be made available on Youtube or on her blog at some point. But for now here's a taste:

And here is the poem I read for Carla--it's one I had written about watching her perform way back in '08 not many months after she her diagnosis of ALS was confirmed. It's in my book, See How We Almost Fly (Pearl Editions.)

Tuesday night at Yoshi’s
for Carla, recently diagnosed

Onstage, your hair’s vermilion, your white
shoulders bathed in piano and saxophone.
Everything shimmers, even the jokes about dying.

Down in the dark, glasses clink.
Tuesday night
gleams and hushes to a halt.

We’re listening to you
bright bird, like you’re our last
drop of blood whispering the secret
we always wanted to hear. We’re on the edge
of what we can stand
to take in, and still leaning forward.

Even the stars overhead, bright
ice-chips melting on a black backdrop
freeze for a little moment. As if they knew.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Yesterday--skull splitting impervious-to-aspirin headache and every bone in my body ached from Death Flu. Thoughts of aneurysms (when I could think) danced through my disaster-lovin' mind. I think it was everything in this past month that had come crashing down on me; Carla's death, and all the ways it has been working inside me. Luckily I seem to have burned through the worst of the bug in 24 hours. Sleep, sleep, liquids, and more sleep, and the pain is miraculously almost gone.

Today: grateful for simple things, like the ability to sit upright and type this, a stack of chick flick videos downstairs, a working telephone, and a dear old out-of-state friend whom I haven't seen in years coming for dinner. To say nothing of nice pajamas.

I wrote a class description and signed up to teach a class on the 10-minute play at The Writing Salon. I love this little form, which is a bit like a long poem, an extended riff, a condensed little bonsai of a play. If you know of anyone who would like to play and experiment with this, please send them over to to sign up for it.

And both the classes I am currently teaching there are going well. I like a good lively discussion in my classes, and I'm certainly getting that. I feel challenged--my opinions aren't always automatically deferred to. Is that okay? Am I exerting enough teacherly influence?

My students are adults--opinionated adults, adults who in some cases have taken many classes and studied with a lot of smart writers. I can pass along what I've come to know for myself, but I don't always automatically have the definitive final word critique on any given piece of writing--I have opinions, but they are only that. Works of literature which I disliked have been lauded in print by other people. One woman's meat, etc.

What I think I can do well is create a good container where people can grow intellectually and creatively into their own strengths. That's what I'm there for. Not to impose my own views--much as a certain part of myself would like that--but to provide a rubric for interrogating the assumptions we bring to the page. Encouraging folks to look deeper, look at the underside. What isn't there on the page yet?

Despite concrete feedback that the classes are going well--students have written me emails telling me as much--I still come home feeling insecure some days. Some days I am still in high school. This morning in fact, I woke up feeling that I had dreamed of high school, that time of belonging and not-belonging, frizzy hair, not the right clothes. Time when I swung between ecstatic discoveries--I am a sexual person! I have my own mind! I can create!--to absolute dejected despair--I will never be the most beautiful girl in the room, I won't get the guy in the end, I will always be in some ways an outsider.

And of course I think of Carla in all this. How the mostly girls' group that gathered around her was like a big wonderful clique--wonderful in many ways, challenging sometimes, despite all our caring there were moments of her being on the outside, because the perspective of a dying person who is thinking of things like living wills, and what to do with their ashes, is so fundamentally different than the perspective of a person who is thinking about what am I going to do next summer and should I go back to school.

It was only when she finally connected with other people who also had ALS that she was able to find a place where all of her emotions were completely understood and shared. All those of us who were part of the process were both outside and inside at the same time, going so deeply into another person's life, returning, changed, to our own lives.

And of course that's the thing about high school that you don't know when you're young (or at least I didn't know it): that everyone feels to some degree outside. Even--maybe especially--the kids that look like the most insiders. When Frances and I saw the play "Girlfriend" about two gay teenagers in a small town, it was the jock kid I worried about. The kid who was identifiably gay--who was feminine and poor and never fit in--he was going to be okay. He knew who he was and could deal with it.

It was the kid who was athletic, whom no one would have suspected of being gay, who was expected to be a doctor and have a girlfriend--he was the one who looked like he might explode with everything he was holding in, holding up, holding onto. He was the one with the most to lose--his image, his cool, his illusion of fitting in, "making it" in straight society--and he was the one with the most to gain, an authentic self. The other kid, the uncool outsider? He had never lost his authentic self. For better or for worse he was himself, and that was his great gift.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

For the record: I do not believe that women who can't find good mates necessarily want to be single, or are too picky, or are otherwise sabotaging themselves in the search for love.

I don't believe that people who can't get a book published in today's marketing climate are secretly afraid of success.

I don't believe that the 10 percent of our population who is unemployed wants to be so.

I don't believe poor people are poor because it is a reflection of their inner poverty or an "out-picturing" of their negative thoughts.

I don't believe that people who have cancer or MS or AIDS or any other terrible disease are full of toxic emotions that made them ill or in any way want to be sick. (I think most of us are full of emotions, some of which are indubitably toxic. Some of us were lucky enough to be breast-fed and/or to have inherited strong constitutions. Others drew the short straw in the genetic lottery, and/or had environmental factors that affected them.)

I have friends and acquaintances who are wonderful people who believe we can control our reality by how we think, by diligently "doing our inner work," by going to therapists or life coaches and uncovering all our issues. But that theory--seductive as it may be with its promise of mind over matter control-- doesn't jive with my experience.

I was single for years and years and I wanted to be mated. It's damn hard for a woman over thirty-five to find an available worthy loving man. I had to work hard for fourteen years--and I did: personals ads, going dancing, getting "out there", all the usual and unusual stuff-- before I found Christopher. Even then, I believe there was a strong element of luck involved. For which I am deeply humbly grateful.

I think it's damn hard to get a book published or a play produced. (Even though I have done both, and again, it was a phenomenal amount of hard work plus that luck thing.)

I think it's hard to have a family, especially when you are an alternative kind of person, not employed in a job with health benefits, not married young, to your high school sweetheart, not living within easy reach of supportive family. Not impossible, but difficult. Some people surmount the difficulties, others, for whatever reasons, try like hell and still find themselves unable to. This truth sucks. It hurts. I hate it. Yet I prefer an unpalatable truth to a big nice plate of delicious steaming bullshit.

I don't know why some people have an easier time finding the things that will make them happy in this life. (I say this counting myself lucky and happy and very very grateful.) I wish everyone had what they most needed, and the time to enjoy it.

We humans can create meaning out of dirt. We can find beauty and lessons in deprivation and hardship; we can grow from (almost) anything. But that doesn't mean that we caused or wished for or even needed those difficult circumstances for our growth. I have grown tremendously in three years of deep unconditional love. It's been a lot more fun growing in this way than it was growing alone or dating men who were unavailable.

This is a minority opinion in the Bay Area, but it's my truth and I'm sticking to it. I say, Keep wanting whatever it is you truly want and keep working and trying all the real-world external things you can do to get it. It's worth making a fool of yourself, combing through personals ads, going on blind dates, enduring folk dancing or Sierra Club hikes, or whatever it is you have to put up with to find love. It's worth braving disappointment, rejection and heartache along the way, if that's the cost of the ticket.

Some of the things I once thought I wanted were not the real deal. When I was young and a voracious People magazine reader--all right, I still read it--I wanted very badly to be famous. But I've come to understand that fame is a difficult thing to manage at best and a monster that eats your life at worst. So I'm glad I didn't get that. Semi-obscurity is actually much more workable for a poet.

Love on the other hand has been everything it was cracked up to be and more. It has changed me more profoundly than years of therapy, church or synagogue attendance, or any of the worthy activities I undertook to touch that ache in the center of my soul. Yoga does the same thing for other people; or shamanic journeys, or service work, or even writing. And some people are better off on their own, single. I know that. You don't have to be married to be happy. Hell, for women the statistics say the exact opposite.

But for me, the personal, intimate, one-on-one, domestic, sexual, romantic, stubborn, sometimes frustrating and challenging human love I share with Christopher is what I needed to bring me home to the heart of life. Knowing what I know now, I would go through everything I had to go through again to find him, to make this. I would do it in a heartbeat.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

There was something extraordinary in the air at the Rowe workshop this year. So many incredible people, and the whole thing had a kind of blessing hanging over it. Even though, or perhaps partly because of the sadness of Genie Zeiger's not being there.

Genie was a beautiful poet and essayist who died last Christmas; she was a long-time resident of Western Massachusetts and had created a lot of writerly community with the workshops she held out of her home. She had also made the original connection so that The SUN could get in and do the workshops at Rowe, which have now turned into an annual tradition.

So there were toasts to her honor, and remembrances of her, and some tears shed. There was heartbreak, and it was an extraordinarily beautiful weekend. Both things were true. That is perhaps the most miraculous thing I've learned from being close to Carla in the last few years, that you can have sadness and joy at the same time.

The Monday following Rowe, I visited my 15-year-old nephew's classroom--at his request--and talked about poetry, read a few poems, and answered questions. I was pretty wiped out from the previous weekend, still I wouldn't have missed it for the world. How many 15-year-old boys would want their middle-aged weird poet aunties to come in to their schools--want it and initiate and arrange the visit themselves? Noah made all the arrangements; he talked to his teacher, met me in the lobby, held my hand and walked me to the office to sign me in.

Not to brag or anything, but my nephew is, I think, a new breed of young man--engaged, present, kind, funny, smart, and most of all, not ashamed to be human. I don't remember boys being like that when I was his age--most teenagers, myself included, adopted some kind of facade of fake cool, rolling our eyes and feeling simultaneously alienated and victimized and superior to the adults around us. He exhibits none of that. You can talk to him, one person to another. What a gift.

Then I came home. At the airport Christopher greeted me a little nervously: "There's been um, a new development." One of the feral cats--kittens, really-- had dropped a litter of her own on our front lawn--six babies--and then abandoned them because she was too young to care for them; a barely pubescent mother. She was later seen lurking around the backyard reading Cosmo and doing her fingernails while her babies starved loudly in the front.

Christopher said the sound of their piteous mewling was more than he could bear, he had never heard anything like it. A cacophony of soprano whistles and shrieking. He took them in, set up an elaborate system of two plastic tubs with air holes drilled into them, lay in a supply of towels and newspapers, went out and bought expensive newborn kitty formula, tiny bottles, a funnel, the works--and so I was plunged from minor poet-stardom into newborn kitty care in the space of a few hours.

It was not a graceful transition. Kittens are supposed to be cute. These looked like large rats. They were so frantic to feed they nearly knocked the bottle out of my hand. They scrabbled and climbed on each others' heads in their frantic attempts to survive.

And they had to be fed every three or four hours, and then diddled--there's no other way to say it--to make them pee. Apparently the mother cat, if she's a good mother, licks their nether regions to stimulate elimination. In the absence of a real mother, Christopher and I were reduced to tickling their hindquarters gently while wearing rubber gloves until we were rewarded by a few drops of golden showers. Sorry to be gross, but that was the reality of our situation; hunched over, sitting on an old toolbox (closed) with its handle poking up into our own nether regions, trying to get to the kitty poop before they could get it smeared all over their fur.

They had fleas. They were a squirming writhing mass of naked need. And we couldn't figure out what to do with them. Oakland SPCA won't just take all abandoned kitties automatically. C had to go to work on Wednesday and guess who had to do the daily feedings? He tried to spare me as much as possible, so he ended up doing the very early a.m. feeding and the late-night one--this in addition to setting out food for the seven other feral cats who inhabit our backyard and the one indoor one. Oh, and working full-time.

He was getting haggard. I tried and failed to be saintly. Then I got angry and desperate. I posted our plight on Facebook, and was rewarded with some sage advice, and we ended up surrendering the kittens yesterday at a no-kill shelter in another city. Phew! Last night we finally had our delayed, romantic reunion, and then Christopher slept for ten hours and emerged rosy and beaming.

Now all we have to do is trap and spay the remaining seven and get the four younger ones adopted so we don't go through this again in a few more months. And still the feral cat situation in the city at large continues to spiral out of control.

How did we get into this situation? We just live here. We noticed. Or, to be more accurate, Christopher noticed. He's the cat person. But once you see, are you then responsible to...respond?

"What should I have done?" Christopher asked me. It was a sincere question. He felt bad about turning our home into a feral kitty nursery without consulting me first. "What would you have done?"

The book (and movie, with kate Winslet!) The Reader hinges on this question. An illiterate woman, employed as a Nazi guard is later prosecuted for "just following orders" and continuing to guard a bunch of Jewish prisoners while they burned to death in a locked church. (Sorry for the spoiler, but the movie's been out for over a year.)

She is not exactly evil, but rather, morally blind. Morally illiterate, as well as actually illiterate; she can't "read" the situation, she can't figure out what is right and what is wrong. "What would you have done?" she asks the judge and the jury. It's an honest question, and it angers them. They don't want to think about it.

What would I have done if Christopher hadn't taken the kittens in himself? Would I have walked by them? called Animal Control (they never come, in Oakland.)

I took in a homeless girl once. Although now I sometimes--often--walk right past people begging on the street, there are so many of them. It was a disaster when I took this girl in--and it was also wonderful--just as caring for these kittens was disastrous and wonderful. To make the choice to love something that can't love you back. Like the world.

Working in our yard together last night, after the heat of the day had cooled off and the datura flowers were pouring out their fragrance over the moonlit grass, I felt the presence of wild felines occasionally stalking in the weeds, or vanishing in a graceful leap over the fence. I could see how these elusive profligate creatures make our landscape more beautiful, more alive; how this is also their city as much as it belongs to anyone.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Nobody has had the heart to say it on their blog yet, so I will. Carla died.

She died peacefully, surrounded by people she loved, who loved her dearly, having been able to say good-bye to so many old and new friends. She died knowing that she made a huge difference in the lives of so many people, including mine. She died having done everything she could do on her "bucket" list (hate that term, but whatever.) She tied up as many loose ends and finished as much business as she could. No one could have used 47 years on this beautiful planet better.

She died way too soon, and she died of a disease that will be curable, or at least much more treatable five years from now, in part due to her efforts raising funds and consciousness to fight ALS.

I don't know why it had to be this way; I don't know why she's not here anymore, and frankly I have a hard time believing it. Even though I was one of the lucky ones that got to say a personal good-bye to her on Friday, May 14th, her last day of being fully awake before she slipped into a coma. She had a great time that day. Her beloved Maclen was by her side, and her caregivers, and good friends came and went. The house was full of love and light--and tears, as well, but plenty of laughter.

She set the bar very very high for living and dying with grace and purpose.

And I still can't quite wrap my head around it. And I still want to talk with her about the Anna Deavere Smith play I just finished reading, "House Arrest", and I want to tell her about my trip to Massachusetts where I taught with other SUN writers at Rowe and had an amazing time, and I want to brag to her about my nephews and nieces who are turning into such interesting and wonderful people, and roll my eyes with her that in my absence Christopher heard six (yes, you read that correctly six) abandoned feral kittens mewing piteously in the tall grass in our yard and felt moved to take them in.

(Their mother is True Dee, the barely-adolescent sister of Trixie who got knocked up the same time Trixie and her other sister My Sharona did. C managed to get Trixie and Sharona aborted and spayed, but True Dee would not be captured and gave birth and then abandoned the babies because she's just too young to know what to do with them.)

They take formula from a tiny bottle. They weigh 300 grams each and sleep in a pile all together--a kitty pudle of black and gray and white arms and legs and six tiny heads. They are gaining in strength and awakeness hourly and all are bent on survival and sucking down as much formula as they can. They all seem to be girls so far as we can make out, although who knows, maybe some of them are boys whose boy parts just aren't big enough to be apparent.

Anyway, we are now officially kitty grand-parents, and C is off to buy a heating pad for them, while I prepare to post photos on Facebook and Craigs List.

I could tell her about that and show her my lightly scratched hands and kitty-pee-stained new pants and she would get a laugh out of it. And even though she's not here, I do tell her, whever she is.