Thursday, February 25, 2010

I wrote the following letter to some friends and collaborators at Interplay (; today:

I look at the New York Times online every morning and the other day there was a picture of a young Haitian woman who had had one leg amputated. The caption said she had been a professional dancer. There are many such new amputees in Haiti now, thousands and thousands of them.

And I started thinking... about how Interplay knows a lot about dancing with physical limitations. How great would it be if a group of Interplayers were to go to Haiti, perhaps bringing prostheses and other supplies to make life easier for a disabled person? What if we were to dance and play with survivors of the earthquake, especially amputees, especially children?

When I was in Haiti years ago, disabled people were carried around on their friends' or relatives' backs, or sometimes they were pulled in little rickety wooden carts. I don't think I saw anyone in a wheelchair the whole time I was there. I wonder if anyone is working on super-affordable low-tech equipment for the thousands of newly-disabled people there? I'm sure someone is, but who?

I don't think this is an idea for right now. Right now the needs there are for food, water, and housing. I am thinking a year or a year and a half from now. I would like to go over earlier, maybe with Habitat for Humanity, or maybe with the Haitian support organization that exists here in the Bay Area (I forget their name, they spoke at my synagogue the other week.) I think I could act as a liason and scout out contacts to see if this idea would be even feasible.

I stayed in Haiti for two weeks back in the early eighties with a friend. We traveled on the Tab-Tab's (local trucks which are used to transport people, and are usually loaded to the gills and running on unpaved, rocky mountain roads,) and rented rooms with mud walls and cots and a toilet down the hall for about two dollars a night.

I don't know what exists there now, but my sense is that things have not improved in recent years, and the earthquake destroyed a lot of living spaces. So whoever wanted to go would have to be pretty hardy and up for sleeping conditions that might resemble camping more than a hotel stay. There could also be a health threat from multi-drug resistant TB, since the main hospital where TB patients were housed collapsed and many of the patients who could walk simply left without taking their full course of meds. That is a real danger. (Read Tracy Kidder's excellent book Mountains Beyond Mountains for more on TB and AIDS in Haiti, and on Dr. Paul Farmer.) It would be a more rugged experience than our trip to Malawi, although the plane trip would be a lot shorter.

I wouldn't want to bring a large group, just a couple of very strong, very flexible Interplayers who had skills in rhythm, dance, music, and healing. I'm fluent in Creole and could provide translation services plus the other stuff I do; including storytelling facilitation. Once upon a time I used to know some Haitian folk songs--my students taught me--it's been so long I've forgotten, but I'm sure it would come back.

I know Interplay and Body Wisdom are pretty broke right now and my personal financial picture isn't that strong either. Thanks to all the cutbacks in education, I'm more under-employed than usual. That's why I was thinking a grant might be a good thing.

So...anyone else interested in this idea? Wanna brainstorm? Wanna jump on the bandwagon? Feel free to forward this email to whomever you think might be interested in collaborating. As I said, this is for 2011 or 2012, not this year. But great things could come out of it.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Woke up way too early--before 5--and couldn't get back to sleep so here I am, all coffee-d up and pretty tired, at my desk. I swam three-quarters of a mile yesterday, at 6:00 p.m. You'd think that would make for a good long sleep, but sometimes exercise too close to bedtime has the opposite effect. I'm not losing any weight from this either, because I'm still eating sugar--but my shoulders are looking muy buff.

Yesterday I drove an hour through the pouring rain to interview Kim Rosen, the author of Saved By A Poem. It was so worth it! We spoke deeply about the role that poetry plays in different cultures, how learning poems by heart can align people physically, emotionally, and spiritually, the origins of poetic language, poetry and Bernie Madoff, dreams of poetry-diplomacy, poetry in Kenya with Maasi tribespeople, poetry in Ireland, in Uruguay, poetry at the Superdome in New Orleans a month after Katrina and so much more.

Even though editors at The Sun were somewhat lukewarm on this topic when I first proposed it, I think they will love it when the interview is typed up. At least I hope they will. I loved our conversation, and I felt lucky to be part of it. The best part of being an artist for me is the conversations you get to have before during after and through the art. And the connections and the relationships that grow out of it.

Today: send Love Shack to the remaining small presses on my list, buy apples and beer, write introduction to the interview while it is still fresh in my mind, take a nap. And the rain goes on...

Monday, February 22, 2010

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate the phrase "inner work"? It's a term one hears a lot around the Bay Area, usually in a thinly-masked judgmental way, such as "he or she is or isn't doing their inner work." As if the person pronouncing this diagnosis could know what was going on inside another human being!

Or, "If you are doing your inner work, you'll be okay when the big earthquake hits/you receive a terrible diagnosis/your pet/parent/lover dies/leaves." (This, by the way, is bullshit. No matter how much you meditate or eat tofu or visualize little green people, or whatever it is you do, dying is still scary, losing things is still painful, and people leaving you still sucks. Even for the Dalai Lama, who, I think we can all agree, is someone who has Done His Work--for many lifetimes. You don't get out of being human. Not if you were born in a body.)

I hate, hate, hate this expressions, which is almost a byword on the lips of most of my dear sweet super-conscious friends. When I hear someone talk about "inner work" I want to reach for the Ding Dongs and beer--and I don't even like beer! I want to watch World Wrestling Federation on TV. I want to go disrupt a seance.

Fuck "inner work." Just live your life and be as kind as you can. Reflection? Sure. Seeing where you are the author of your own problems? Bring it on. Apologizing when you've fucked up and hurt somebody? Absolutely. People have been doing this stuff all along. It's nothing fancy. It used to not be called "inner work." It used to be called "being a mensch", or, more negatively, "trying not to be too big of an asshole."

This is the philosophy I subscribe to. Try not to be too big of an asshole. If you make a mistake, apologize as quickly as possible, and make amends wherever you can. Repeat as often as necessary. That's it. The rest is commentary.

Calling your life "inner work" implies some kind of special spiritual heavy lifting that only the initiated few are special enough to participate in. There's something self-serving in it, as the implication is always that the person talking about "inner work" is of course doing it. It's like giving yourself a gold star. It implies that the guy who goes to work and comes home and watches a ball game and loves his family and is reasonably nice most of the time is somehow lacking. And that the New Age self-appointed prophet whose ethics and relationships are a mess has some kind of corner on integrity because they sit on a meditation cushion, or collect crystals, or get their chart done.

Personally, I'd rather hang out with the woman who picks up garbage at the side of the road than any "inner work" guru. I'd rather hang out with an eight-year-old. Or a gerbil. Or a pine tree, or a feral cat.

Friday, February 19, 2010

We went to hear Eve Ensler speak last night, at a benefit for KPFA. She was completely inspiring--in fact, she was not just inspiring, she embodied inspiration altogether. What a privilege to witness someone who is really in service to an energy greater than herself, a servant of the Divine Feminine. As she puts it, "Vaginas took me over and had their way with me." Now she is devoting her life to ending violence against women.

She speaks out ceaselessly about the rapes and torture going on in the Congo--rape as a weapon of war, and also about the wars women wage against our own bodies because we have been so deeply inculcated with unattainable images of perfection. (For more information on this, if you go to and type Nicholas Kristof into the search engine, he has reported extensively on this. Or go to the Huffington Post and search out Eve Ensler.)

I got to meet her for a minute backstage and she is also really pretty! She is in her late fifties but her skin is fresh and rosy like a young girls'--she glows. And she was totally present and warm and gracious even though there were hundreds of people lined up waiting for her to sign their books.

I was pleased and touched that Christopher accompanied me to hear her speak. There were a handful of men in the audience, but of course it was very estrogen-heavy. There were a bunch of girls from Berkeley High who had been involved in a production of The Vagina Monologues there--certainly no one was doing that kind of theatre when I was in high school! Ensler spoke about giving up security, or the illusion of security. I find her inspiring and terrifying. The terror is like the terror of standing at the edge of a high mountain. Part of me wants to jump off and fly the way she does, the other part clings to home.

Her latest book is called I Am An Emotional Creature. It is a poetic defense and support of girls, and their emotional lives. Their (our) passion, depth, empathy and intensity. Many of us have had to learn to tone these things down as we grew into adult women. Some of us (me) have even learned to shut them off. Yet I certainly was a tearful, passionate, boisterous, humorous and intense girl in my day. And somewhere that girl lives on inside of me.

I wish to report on the status of the kitty names in our family. We are adopting Trixie (yes, Christopher won that one.) Her little black sister is My Sharona. Her big white and black sister is True Dee (Trudie, for Gertrude Stein--I wanted Trudie and Trixie, get it?) and the mother cat is named True Dat--homage to The Wire. The father cat, who is enormous, is named Tiny, and the other male cat who prowls around and may have fathered some of the other strays is Whiny, because he yowls all the time.

It's true that I lived here for ten years before Christopher and there were feral cats the whole time but I didn't take much note of them, because despite the fifty cans of cat food which I lugged home from Trader Joe's the other week, I am still officially Not A Cat Person. But I have to admit Trixie is very cute, with her tiger coat and white diamond chest. And to see her cuddling in Christopher's arms and hear her purr and witness his joy is to see true love in action.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Seven hours in an underground office in S.F. yesterday at a training to learn to interview other people involved in the artist-in-the-schools biz. I'm interested in this study, which will gather data from artists, principals of schools, program directors and use it to hopefully validate the contributions resident artists make, improve working conditions for us and perhaps institute a credentialing process for our profession.

I think many poets and artists in the schools are like me, somewhat anarchic spirits who have a hard time fitting in to institutions. (Of course most human beings have a hard time fitting into institutions so I don't know what makes us so special...)

I do know that while I can be very dogged in pursuing goals and staying the course, I have "spurt energy" when it comes to hard work. That is I can be very intense, learn a lot, work hard, go all out on one day--and then I can't get out of bed the next. I wish I were not like this. I admire people who can pour it on, day after day after day. But after seven hours in said basement room and then another four or so hours at Interplayce, I found that the car was driving itself back home. luckily it knows how to get there. I ate some salad at 10 p.m. with Christopher and crashed into bed, beat, winded spent.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Picnic today at the marina. Yellow wildflowers covering the hills and all kinds of people out flying kites. Little kids furiously pedaling their bikes and trikes, chihuahuas and poodles, mutts and Labradors, sheepdogs, retrievers, Huskies and pit bulls sniffing out the ground squirrels and the gophers and being tugged away from the owls' special protected area. The sun came out and burned off the fog and folks were in t-shirts and tank tops. The kite-seller sold kites from his truck, and we lugged a picnic under a tree and ate overlooking the water.

When we were first dating, before we'd even had any sleep-overs, we had a series of picnics by Lake Merritt. We'd meet early on Sunday mornings by the Grand Lake movie Theater. C would be carrying a shopping bag with a thermos of steaming hot coffee, half 'n half, cheese, salami, hard-boiled eggs. I'd bring good bread and fruit and dark chocolate. We'd sit on a bench and eat and people-watch and then walk around the lake, talking. That was our courtship. After he moved in with me it was easier just to spend Sunday mornings with The New York Times spread all over the living room floor, but today we resurrected the old ritual.

I don't like the obligatory holiday thing and both of us were preoccupied and not in a mood for present-buying or receiving, so that was our present to each other; just a sweet picnic and the luxury of time. That's enough. Also, I gave him a challenge. He's recently fallen in love with photography and I suggested he take a picture a day for a year. I said I would try to write a poem a day for the same amount of time--starting now.

I read somewhere that e.e. cummings wrote a poem a day for fourteen years. I have no idea if that's true or not. I know Robert Bly did something similar, and of course William Stafford was famous for getting up at 4 a.m. and writing poems every day while the sun rose. The idea of making a commitment like that scares me which is why I think I should do it.

So I offer this Valentine's day dare to anyone who wants it: do the thing you love every day for a year, whether it's yoga practice, making a picture, writing a poem, singing a song, or whatever your thing is. Just do it every day. See how that shapes your year.

And I found this poem by Andrea Gibson today on the Huffington Post. Enjoy!

Say Yes

when two violins are placed in a room

if a chord on one violin is struck

the other violin will sound the note

if this is your definition of hope

this is for you

the ones who know how powerful we are

who know we can sound the music in the people around us

simply by playing our own strings

for the ones who sing life into broken wings

open their chests and offer their breath

as wind on a still day when nothing seems to be moving

spare those intent on proving god is dead

for you when your fingers are red

from clutching your heart

so it will beat faster

for the time you mastered the art of giving yourself for the sake of someone else

for the ones who have felt what it is to crush the lies

and lift truth so high the steeples bow to the sky

this is for you

this is also for the people who wake early to watch flowers bloom

who notice the moon at noon on a day when the world

has slapped them in the face with its lack of light

for the mothers who feed their children first

and thirst for nothing when they're full

this is for women

and for the men who taught me only women bleed with the moon

but there are men who cry when women bleed

men who bleed from women's wounds

and this is for that moon

on the nights she seems hung by a noose

for the people who cut her loose

and for the people still waiting for the rope to burn
about to learn they have scissors in their hands

this is for the man who showed me

the hardest thing about having nothing

is having nothing to give

who said the only reason to live is to give ourselves away

so this is for the day we'll quit or jobs and work for something real

we'll feel for sunshine in the shadows
look for sunrays in the shade

this is for the people who rattle the cage that slave wage built

and for the ones who didn't know the filth until tonight

but right now are beginning songs that sound something like
people turning their porch lights on and calling the homeless back home

this is for all the shit we own

and for the day we'll learn how much we have

when we learn to give that shit away

this is for doubt becoming faith

for falling from grace and climbing back up

for trading our silver platters for something that matters
like the gold that shines from our hands when we hold each other

this is for the grandmother who walked a thousand miles on broken glass
to find that single patch of grass to plant a family tree

where the fruit would grow to laugh

for the ones who know the math of war

has always been subtraction

so they live like an action of addition

for you when you give like every star is wishing on you

and for the people still wishing on stars

this is for you too

this is for the times you went through hell so someone else wouldn't have to

for the time you taught a 14 year old girl she was powerful

this is for the time you taught a 14 year old boy he was beautiful

for the radical anarchist asking a republican to dance

cause what's the chance of everyone moving from right to left

if the only moves they see are NBC and CBS
this is for the no becoming yes

for scars becoming breath

for saying i love you to people who will never say it to us

for scraping away the rust and remembering how to shine

for the dime you gave away when you didn't have a penny

for the many beautiful things we do

for every song we've ever sung

for refusing to believe in miracles

because miracles are the impossible coming true
and everything is possible

this is for the possibility that guides us

and for the possibilities still waiting to sing

and spread their wings inside us

cause tonight saturn is on his knees

proposing with all of his ten thousand rings

that whatever song we've been singing we sing even more
the world needs us right now more than it ever has before

pull all your strings

play every chord

if you're writing letters to the prisoners

start tearing down the bars

if you're handing our flashlights in the dark

start handing our stars

never go a second hushing the percussion of your heart

play loud

play like you know the clouds have left too many people cold and broken

and you're their last chance for sun

play like there's no time for hoping brighter days will come

play like the apocalypse is only 4...3...2

but you have a drum in your chest that could save us

you have a song like a breath that could raise us
like the sunrise into a dark sky that cries to be blue
play like you know we won't survive if you don't
but we will if you do
play like saturn is on his knees
proposing with all of his ten thousand rings
that we give every single breath
this is for saying-yes

this is for saying-yes

--Andrea Gibson

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Don't hate me snow-besieged East Coast friends and family, but Spring has come to the Bay Area. The cherry trees have popped out in their pink pom-poms, like a bunch of raw young cheerleaders. It's still overcast and threatening to rain--and may it rain more and more! we need it--but buds are budding, things are flowering, and in the moments when the sun shines it's clear that it's spring.

I celebrate every New Year possible, Jewish, Roman, pagan--but Chinese New Year always feel like the most appropriate one, because the days are finally recognizably longer, sap is running, and the new year has really begun. On January 1 we are still in the underbelly of the dark, shooting off fireworks and trying to have faith.

I got to see Carla for a few minutes last Saturday--first time in weeks. I told her about Trixie and about how someday I want to have a little dust-mop of a dog and name him Chekhov, and she accused me of trying to ruin dogs. "Dogs are supposed to be light and fun and uncomplicated," she said. "By naming a dog 'Chekhov', you are invoking darkness and layers of subtext. Dogs are not supposed to have subtext. They're just supposed to wag their tails and lick your face."

Okay, she has a point. But it's totally moot in any case, as 'Chekhov" is a future conditional tense kind of dog. Right now what we have is a still-skittish kitty--although she now lets me pet her before and after administering treats--and her sisters, the feral cats outside. I wonder if Trixie misses the great outdoors, as she prowls around our house exploring and crying. I wonder if her mother and sisters wish they could be her, trapped in comfort with three squares a day, or if they'd rather take their chances in the wet wide wonderful world of the backyard, where they leap fences, chase birds and brave the hazards of outdoor city living?

I also saw my Little Sister this weekend--it was a good visit. She was scared of the new cat at first and held my hand when we went down to the garage to say hi. Then she painted a picture and made a card for her church auntie, and we played checkers and Monopoly (world's most tedious game.) She was sweet and funny and fun to be with (although she hella cheats!) She has a grand disregard for money. When I landed on one of her properties, she wouldn't charge me rent, and when she had to pay me for anything, she'd say, "Keep the change. I don't want your money." On the other hand, when she landed in jail, she would redo her steps stopping short just before the jail cell, or jumping over it.

Last night I went to Interplayce to hear a presentation by Dr. Ginny Whitelaw who is an astrophysicist who used to work for NASA. She has written a book called Move To Greatness about the four energy types--in Interplay we call them Thruster, Hanger, Shaper and Swinger, although she has renamed them The Driver, The Visionary, The Organizer, and The Collaborator.

The Thruster, or Driver type is just what it sounds like--very focused, driving ahead towards a goal, looking neither left nor right, tendency to be impatient, tendency to run over other people, gets the job done, protective. The physical base for this type is at the bottom of the belly, I guess what yogis would call the first chakra, to mix a metaphor or two.

The Hanger, or Visionary, which is my primary type, is in some ways the Thruster's polar opposite. The movement style of the Hanger is non-repetitive, non-patterned, sometimes frustratingly inconsistent or elusive. "Marches to his or her own drummer." Big picture, connection to all that is, not so good on details. Ease, support, flow. Sometimes low energy or spacey.

(I should have said that while we each have a primary, preferred energy type, we embody all of them. Although my primary type is Hanger, my secondary strength is Thruster--that's how I get my manuscripts out into the world.)

Then there's the Shaper, or Organizer, which is what I think Christopher is. Does the right thing, loves order, pattern, rightness, ethics. Exceedingly conscientious. Hard on self for any perceived mistake. Needs a lot of affirmation. Needs to know what the rules are--the right rules--or the recipe, or the map. When C moved in with me, he made a blueprint of the house and made little paper cut-outs of his pianos and he measured everything and figured out where it would all go. Before he even moved. I was beyond impressed. Awestruck is more like it.

Our differences drive us crazy--I don't cook with recipes, he reveres them, and you can extrapolate from there--but they are also instructive. I would like to be more like him. Even though I chafe at routine, his ability to create a ritually nice environment by arranging flowers in a vase, lighting candles, putting on the right music, creates a safe cozy home for us. And I trust him down to the ground. His ethics are impeccable.

The fourth pattern is The Swinger or the Collaborator. This one's center of movement is side to side, lateral--think figure eights, think swing dancing. Lively, fun, upbeat, relational. Can juggle many tasks, people, activities. Hand to hand to hand, like a monkey swinging through trees. This one has the energy I wish I had, the energy I would like to cultivate, light, lithe, delicious. On the other hand I guess the Collaborator could get overwhelmed, and have problems with boundaries. or with having to be alone, or with standing against the group. Maybe it would be hard for the collaborator to pull off a solo project of their own vision. I don't know. I suspect they have the most fun, though.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Today, Christopher and I went to a memorial service for a former high school student of C's who was killed in Iraq ten days ago at the age of twenty-four. It was held in a Catholic church out in Clayton. We drove past green rolling hills, and the views of beautiful mountain ranges to get there.

Friends and family members spoke; as we entered the church the young man's former scout-master was speaking about the boy as an eagle scout, the badges he earned, the trouble he got into. He choked up as he was speaking, and at several points had to stop and cry. There were a lot of tears. I don't know how you begin to mourn for a twenty-four year old, someone barely on the cusp of adult life.

The Army sends a superior officer to each funeral of a fallen soldier to speak. This sergeant was a woman. I was impressed (and surprised, I admit) by how sensitive and thoughtful she was. She quoted Joseph Campbell and spoke about heroism. The part that felt creepy was when she thanked the family for their "sacrifice." If it had been my brother, son or husband, I would have screamed, "It was not my choice to sacrifice this beautiful man for this stupid war!" But I'm not in their shoes. I held Christopher's hand and the whole congregation stood up to honor her.

They presented the mother and widow with two posthumous medals. All was done formally and stiffly by officers in full dress uniform, in silence broken only by muffled weeping. The reception afterward was hosted by Blue Star mothers, women whose children are serving in the military. When a soldier is killed his or her mother becomes a Gold Star mother. I talked with one of the Blue Star mothers and asked so many questions that she asked me if I had a child in the military. No, I said, I am writing a play about soldiers and their relationships with their mothers.

She lit up and said I could come to a meeting. I said I wouldn't want to intrude and she said, Oh no, we would love to talk to you about our experiences. For my part, I am excited and a little nervous --in a good way. The nervousness of crossing an important threshold.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

I am trying to compile a simple list of poems published in the last seven years plus the magazines and dates and serial numbers of the magazines where they were published. Simple clerical work for the NEA application which a dear friend is helping me with. I am procrastinating doing this task by blogging about it.

I've got a pile of colorful journals which no one ever reads except the people who publish in them, at my elbow, balanced between a mug of hot water, stray pens, address books, post-its, small spiral notebooks, dental floss and vitamins. It doesn't matter much to me whether I published this little poem or that little poem in 2006 or 2007, in Kalliope or in Hanging Loose. The artful little journals, which occupy their own shelf in the wooden bookcase in the hallway, are beginning to overflow a little now from the long accumulation of publishing cred, poem by poem, essay by essay. It's necessary to building an identity as a writer, but does not do much towards building a life.

I paid for and got a rigorous critique of my play The Recruiter (yes, another one.) My critique-r had good specific things to say which made me hungry to go back into the work. Meanwhile, I need to apply for this grant and think about jobs. The problem is this: I already have work. I have bunches of little poetry gigs and teaching-writing gigs, and a few weekend workshops, and-- And they don't add up to enough money to live on or adopt a child on or anything, but they took a long time to get and build and cultivate and they require administrative energy to keep going.

And I really enjoy, for instance, my Monday evening essay class at The Writing Salon in Berkeley. Those students are delightful, we're having a great time and learning a lot. So what am I complaining about? Well, not complaining exactly--alright, kind of complaining--but it's like I'm the monkey with his hand caught in the jar of peanuts that is this ring of the teaching-creative-writing world. I don't want to let go of what I have, and yet it's not really sustaining me either.

In my alternate-life fantasies I have a Master's of Public Health and work for Doctors Without Borders. I do something truly useful, something which demands all of myself. In another alternate life I am a truly successful playwright (is there such a thing?) who gets to play in rehearsals with brilliant actors and directors.

I mentioned in an earlier blog how impressed I am with Lynn Nottage's work. I haven't seen it on stage yet, but I am good at reading a play and seeing and hearing it in my imagination the way some people I know can look at blueprints and imagine the finished building.

Nottage is the best I've ever read--and that's saying a lot. I went to her web site and saw the schedule there and she has things opening everywhere, here a new play, there a revival of something older. And of course her newest play involved visiting women of the Congo and hearing their stories and writing them which seems like it has some social benefit as well, not just creative narcissism.

Anyway, yesterday I got my copy of Tony Hoagland's latest book of poetry Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, and he's another one whose social commentary is worth the trees that were chopped down to make his books. (Incidentally, I have no idea what the title means. I combed all through the book, read every poem, laughed, cried, grunted, chuckled, and sighed--and never saw any mention of a Honda Dynasty at all. As someone who struggles with titles myself, I wonder: was it part of a poem which didn't make the final cut? Is it a reference to those of us who drive Hondas? What's the deal with the mysterious title, Tony??)

But the poems are wonderful. He deals very explicitly in this book with the bloatedness and loneliness and selfishness and privilege and irony and pathos of being American in the twenty-first century, and he mostly does it with compassion and a gentle fury in which he implicates himself first. In his earlier books I felt he was the best poet of the contemporary male experience I had ever read. He still is, but in this book it's more explicitly about his and our Americanness. There's less sexual seeking in this book, and more about Nature which I really love. I think he might be my favorite poet.

Here's one from an earlier book:

Wasteful Gesture Only Not

Ruth visits her mother’s grave in the California hills.
She knows her mother isn’t there but the rectangle of grass
marks off the place where the memories are kept,

like a library book named Dorothy.
Some of the chapters might be: Dorothy:
Better Bird-Watcher Than Cook;

Dorothy, Wife and Atheist;
Passionate Recycler Dorothy, Here Lies But Not.
In the summer hills, where the tall tough grass

reminds you of persistence
and the endless wind
reminds you of indifference,

Ruth brings batches of white roses,
extravagant gesture not entirely wasteful
because as soon as she is gone she knows
the deer come out of the woods to eat them.

What was made for the eye
goes into the mouth,
thinks Ruth to herself as she drives away,
and in bed when she tries to remember her mother,

she drifts instead to the roses,
and when she thinks about the roses she
sees instead the deer chewing them—

pale petals of the roses in the dark
warm bellies of the sleeping deer—
that’s what going to sleep is like.

--Tony Hoagland

Monday, February 01, 2010

My Husband's New Girlfriend

Christopher has a new love. She's gray-and-black tiger-striped with four little white sock feet. Of all the feral cats, she is the most aggressive, curious, and willing to come inside and be tamed. He has been courting her for weeks with greenies and canned smoked oysters, so that she now consents to live under our roof--in the garage still, but she has ventured upstairs and started exploring the kitchen, living room and dining room.

She even rubs against his leg and purrs, although when I come into the room she runs away. This despite the fact that he took her to the vet, (which she's already forgiven and forgotten in her tiny pea-sized cat brain) while I have never done anything bad to her. Not that I'm jealous. Not at all.

Her name, I regret to report, seems to be shaping up to be Trixie, who was a character on The Honeymooners and is also the name of one of the nicer whores on the HBO show Deadwood.

I was voting for Maggie, as in Elizabeth Taylor's character in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, but I was voted down. She was Mollie for a day or two, which I also liked, but which Big Daddy also ultimately vetoed. I also thought Eartha would be good (Eartha Kitt? Get it?) but no dice. And my original name for her, "Jane Austen" was nixed on the grounds that she doesn't look like Jane Austen. Well who does?

Now he's trying to get around my objections to Trixie ("It just doesn't have any gravitas." "Well, what do you expect? She's a feral cat!") by saying that the name just "came to him from afar" which I think is Christopher's best bullshit approximation of New Age speak and which I am not buying.

But I think she will ultimately end up being Trixie, because despite the fact that I bought and hauled forty pounds of cat food back from the store the other day, and despite my best efforts to curry favor by also offering greenies and clucking my tongue, the truth is, he is the cat man and all the kitties know it. He speaks their language, understands their mysterious and nefarious thoughts and is generally the go-to guy in the leg-rubbing and purring departments. I'm the red-headed stepmother. Ah well...

A few nights ago I saw It's Complicated with a couple of girlfriends. This movie establishes once and for all that Meryl Streep looks good in Eileen Fisher clothing.

What struck all three of us was the unrelenting gigglieness of Streep's character and the way she never really stood up to Alec Baldwin's assholic ex-husband. She would say "No," and then he would override her boundaries and she would roll over. Again and again and again.

It was distressing to watch that, but more distressing to address the deeper issue of how many times have I done that in my own life? For many years I felt that sex with a certain kind of man was Kryptonite for me. It drained me of my power and depleted my wisdom and independence. By the time I was in my mid-forties i was exhausted and ill from affairs gone wrong. I decided I needed to become celibate for a year or two in order to regain my own sense of boundaries and dignity and begin to make better choices.

It was a good choice for me. I regained my health and began to feel whole again, and ultimately met Christopher. But each woman is different in what she needs when. The Streep character in It's Complicated has been celibate for so long she's drying up, and now she just needs to go over to the wild side in order to balance out her psyche and re-open to her own sexuality. At least that's the assertion the movie makes. Her life is perfect but lonely, she needs to rough it up a little, or--and this is where I have a problem--just step aside and allow Alec Baldwin to bulldoze in and rough it up for her.

I know it's a fluffy "fun" movie, I know this may be putting too much analysis on what is basically meant to be cotton candy, but what if she re-connected with her sexuality by buying herself a dildo, learning to ride horses, going on a wilderness adventure, or initiating her own affair, say with someone much younger?

On the other hand, many of us--and I include myself in this category--do exactly what her character does in the movie--we allow some high-testosterone man to have his way with us for awhile. We enjoy some aspects of the sex, we enjoy feeling giddy and carefree and young and desired, and in exchange we betray our own values, and end up with our head in the toilet the next day, either literally or figuratively, trying to puke the experience out.

As a writer I was missing the scenes in the movie that weren't there. I would have liked to have seen a more substantive session between Streep and her shrink. I would have also loved a scene between Streep's ex-wife character and the younger current wife character (I think it was Amanda Peet) in which they discovered some common ground.

It's great that this movie showed an older woman looking and feeling wonderful without plastic surgery. It's great that it depicted the after-effects of divorce--that it takes years and years to recover equilibrium and that the effects on children are also long-lasting. The beautiful relationships among and between the young adult siblings were also a joy to watch. And of course, the Eileen Fisher. Can't beat that with a stick.