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.