Monday, March 31, 2008

Standing Guard

Sometimes as a teacher of a subject every student must take (composition) I feel as if I am on the front lines of a battle. In recent years, with shootings at colleges beginning to pop up, like the ones that used to happen at high schools like Columbine, I look askance at some students sometimes, wondering if any of that will happen here, and hoping with all my might that it won't.
However, today I met a student who fit the profile of potential shooter too well for comfort. He came for a routine enough matter: to discuss an essay he had written for a composition class. Yet something clearly didn't add up.
It was a challenging, college level assignment, a 3-6 page essay analyzing a novel. But on the paper itself, next to his name, he identified this as an assignment for an low level developmental writing class, one where students probably would not be asked to read a complete novel, never mind write a paper like this one. And suspiciously, he didn't remember who the teacher was and had to consult the schedule of classes to figure it out, even though it is already quite late in the semester.
When I identified this as a college level class, he admitted he could not remember things anymore, was experiencing black outs ,and did not sleep more than 2 hours per night. He didn't look disheveled at all, or even haggard. He seemed clean and sedate, an average looking student, if a bit on the thin side. Yet as he told me about his feelings of uncontrollable anger and the furious rides at high speeds he takes on the freeway, my stomach flipped like a fish in a net, and I was not thinking so clearly myself. He said he had consulted a psychologist on campus, but that person was not helping him.
Generally in a circumstance like this, with one of my own students, I would walk that person over to the counseling center. But this time, for some reason, I merely admonished him to go back to the person he saw immediately and tell that person exactly what he just told me.
But later I thought better of it, and told some people around campus about this student, giving them his name and identification number. Better safe than sorry, I think, and hope that someone gives this poor man some assistance.

Friday, March 28, 2008

The dark side of family

Family can be a wonderful thing, but every family comes with its baggage. My family (on my father's side at least) has a dark secret history because of the neurological glitches it is trying to hide in the closet. I believe that my great-grandfather on my father's side, the one with the chicken whose picture you will find below, had Tourettes, rage, OCD, and perhaps also bipolar disorder. I believe this though not a word was ever spoken about him by anyone who knew him. In fact, this picture only came to light because my uncle found a negative in a box and wondered what was on it.
Tourettes has been an important thing in my own life because my father has it and my son inherited it, along with the other disorders named above. My grandmother never seemed to like my dad and this attitude was shared by others in the family, who treated him sometimes with contempt, and I think it is because of the anger my grandmother felt towards her father, who was supposed to have been a terrible person, a violent monster. My father sometimes behaved like a violent monster before he was diagnosed and medicated a few years ago, but I have always known that underneath it all he is a kind person. The same with my son, though we identified his problems and medicated them very early on--largely because of my father. I felt very angry at my own father for a long time, and that is why I think my grandmother felt that way about her own father, so strongly that she changed her name totally--from Velma Trostinetsky to Jenny Gross-- and never spoke of her original name or family again.
I wrote a small poem about this, "My Secret Line."
Here it is:

My Secret Line
Somewhere in Minsk or Moskva,
a frozen forest east of Kiev, my father's
people shed unwanted history and sailed away.

Whether fleeing Cossacks, as they claimed,
or seeking refuge from their own,
they found new names, spawned branches

of invented kin, a dynasty of paper
for the avid heir. This way
they flummoxed dim Americans,

managing to flee inherited misfortune--
gaunt stranger on an empty road.
Old rules do not apply in dreams or exile.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


I just found out last night that I will be teaching my first writing workshop this summer. I traded in my plans to teach the same comp class I'm teaching now the first 6 weeks of summer for 12 weeks of workshop. But now I have to pick books and rustle up a syllabus of sorts really fast, and that sort of freaks me out.
Also, I'm going to be teaching at night. A whole different crowd comes out at night, often older and more serious than the day crowd, I think. I haven't been teaching at night because of my genetic propensity to get up at 5 AM. and my cat's tendency to speed that along by waking me at 4:30 AM... no matter the day of the week.
It is appropriate that since I rediscovered my poems (and by the way, I found the lost ones while I was on break last week, buried in the drawer) I get to help others learn more about their own inner writer. However, I have no illusions, having just helped to judge a writing contest at the college with Lou. Right Lou?
There is a lot of very bad writing going on, but I remember I contributed to that when I was an undergrad also--perhaps not as bad as some of what I saw though.
I think the major problem is that many of those people had never really read a modern poem before. I don't know why they would want to write one when they really don't know what one is.My goal is to spoil the purity of those people's ignorance and introduce them to some poems written in the past century or so. Now I've got to hustle up a syllabus and choose a book right quick, as my mother in law would say. Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Something Happening At the Zoo (or the Wild Animal Park, anyhow!)

Yesterday R and I went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park. We hadn't been there in 14 years, but now that we have a membership and get in free, we decided to check it out. I guess you can say it's totally different now, and so is our situation. No little kids to take care of... just us to please.
We had a great day. Rather than having many many individual animals, the WAP has fewer in much much larger enclosures, or so it seems. Or maybe it's just the size of the place that makes it seem that way. We spent a long time watching a pride of lions. Two lionesses had a litter of cubs in November, and they are sort of oversized babies now, stepping all over their moms, and I'm sure torturing them when the cubs nurse with their sharp teeth and claws. The amazing thing was that there is a place to watch them from very close up, as they hang out on an old abandoned car, evidently their favorite place. I stood about 5 inches from the lioness, looking into the bottomless pool of her golden eye. She knew that I and about 50 other people were looking at her, but she didn't seem to care. It was an amazing experience.
Another amazing thing was the butterfly and orchid house. I had to stand in line for over an hour to get in there, but it was worth it. There were butterflies everywhere. One had to watch her step because they were on the paths and several Morphos and little orange butterflies with elongated wings landed on my shirt and stayed there for some time, opening and closing their wings. I felt really lucky to be standing there in the middle of that beauty. The orchids were also amazing, and complemented the butterflies. I can't make things grow, or I would try my hand at attracting butterflies too.

Friday, March 21, 2008

hitting a snag

My dad took some tests today at the Senior Health Center. A while back, the home where he lives told me that the state objected to the home sending out a man whose file said he had dementia with a woman who definitely has it to the senior center on a public bus. It is a door to door mode of transport, it's true, but sometimes, new drivers drop elderly and handicapped people off in the wrong place, and leave them to wander around the city. If that happened, the home could lose its license. Understandably then, they asked us to take my dad to be tested and to find out whether he could be said to have dementia, something everyone, including his regular physician, seriously doubts.
This is a man who memorizes maps, who reads novels hungrily, and who does a Sudoku puzzle a day, some quite difficult. I wouldn't be able to do even an easy one, being awful with numbers. He's almost 92 and has had a stroke, so vascular dementia would not be unheard of, but he also has Tourette Syndrome, OCD, and bipolar disorder. Interestingly, elderly people with such neurological profiles seem to have a kind of protection against Alzeimer and dementia, on the average.
He was very upset after the testing, and the doctor's comments were telling: she said she would discuss his options in a few weeks, after she had analyzed the results and compared them to his previous tests, which were done about 3 years ago, soon after he came to California.
It would be terrible if he and mom could not go to the Center anymore. They would sit 24-7 in their room, watching tv. That is unacceptable. And I cannot manage to take them to the Center myself without going bananas. It is a 50 minute trip each way, and I cannot see myself doing that on a regular basis. Paying a driver is out of the question. It's a problem, not just for me but for them as well.
My dad is facing this possibility bravely; he is getting angry, and I don't blame him. But I am hoping the doctor doesn't say those dreaded words, despite the definite fact of his diminished memory.
He still follows the news regularly, does his gardening, walks for 30 minutes (slowly) on the treadmill daily, and it would be terrible for him to lose that and still go on living, knowing he was losing it all, little by little. He has watched that happened to my mother, so I hope he is spared it himself. But the truth is, I don't know what the doctor will say.
No point worrying about it till then, but I know that won't prevent my worry.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Purim (too many hamentashen)

While the rest of the world celebrates Easter, we Jews go about our ancient iconoclastic ways and celebrate (this year) Purim. Purim is the origin of all the carnivals celebrated in the Christian world, and like other Jewish holidays, it is about how the Jews survived yet another attempt to wipe them all out. I always wondered when I was growing up why everyone was always trying to kill us off. It explains why the doctrine of the "chosen people" grew up. I hate that idea, actually, and belong to a branch of Judaism where it is not accepted (Reconstructionism).
Anyhow, Purim is based on the story of Esther, set in ancient Persia, where that particular genocide attempt took place. The heroine, who foiled the attempt with her beauty, brains, and bravery, is Esther, who attracted the eye of the rather stupid king Ahasheurus, whose counselor, Hamen, gives hamentashen their name.
These are triangular butter cookies with a filling, usually about palm-sized. I tried taking a picture of the ones I made, which are filled with nutella--chocolate hazelnut spread. I made them that way because I can't eat chocolate, and I had eaten way too many of the ones I made with apricot previously. They didn't turn out well (they didn't remain triangular, and unfolded flat because I didn't leave the dough in the fridge long enough).
Purim services consist of a reading of the story of Esther, the Megillah. You've heard of the whole megillah? That's it. People dress in costumes, and in traditional Jewish communities, get fall-down drunk and tell raunchy jokes. In my community, it's a time for little kids to dress up like kings and queens and bad guys and parade around.
It's refreshing in such a traditionally sexist tradition to have a woman be the hero for a change, even if it's a beauty contest that gives her a chance to save the Jewish people. She is one of several prominent and not-so-prominent women in Jewish lore that are noteworthy. These include women like Pharoah's daughter, who plucked Moses and his basket out of the Nile, and Moses' sister Miriam, and the midwives who saved babies marked for slaughter in that same story. Supposedly, the flight from Egypt never actually occured because the Jews, it seems, were not captives in Egypt, in actuality, or at least there's no evidence that they were. Perhaps it was elsewhere in the region; some speculate it was Babylon. I'm not one of those people who goes looking for the literal ark, so it doesn't really matter to me. It's a good story anyhow, that resonates today.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

geriatrics in wonderland

Today my parents became members of Costco, a discount mega-store that requires membership. One can buy almost anything at Costco, from groceries, to furniture, to electronics, and probably even funeral arrangements. In fact, if funeral arrangements are available from there, this might come in handy for my parents one day. Knowing how horribly expensive funerals are, I've studiously avoided investigating just how much they will cost until I must.

Though last weekend, you may recall, was a nightmare of ambulences and hospital waiting rooms and hard decisions waiting to be made, today was chaotic in a more light-hearted way. My parents are among the world's great shoppers. If they knew they had 24 hours to live, I have no doubt that they would spend it shopping for things they did not need. They still wholeheartedly embrace this activity, though I limit somewhat how much money they spend and on what.

Costco was the stuff of dreams for them. First of all, there are the samples. Samples of all kinds abound, so that by the time you make it around the store, you have consumed a microbuffet of soup, appetizers, fish, chicken salad, corned beef, ravoli, veggie patties, fruit, and dessert, with only the distraction of a sports drink to pollute the palate. My mother, who will not eat the food people thoughtfully prepare for her (including me, when I fix holiday dinners or treats), gobbles everything handed over to her in a paper cup with a spork, barely stopping to ask what it is. And she finishes most of it as well, while I well know that if someone handed it to her on a plate, she would have nothing to do with it.
My father, while also a consumer of goods, particularly edible ones, admires with wide eyes the wonders of the consumer marketplace, the soft towels, the mysterious technological items he knows nothing about (more of which proliferate at every second). He used to be an electrician, who loved to invite all the children of the neighborhood into the basement, where he would gleefully electrocute hotdogs impaled on sterilized nails, slather them with mustard and relish, and encase them in the crysalyis of a bun. No wonder children used to come to the door asking, "Can Morris come out to play?"
When he was not in his monster phase, he made a wonderful playmate, but one never knew when the mood would turn, his brow would darken, and all the children gathered in our house would flee, as from an impending twister, the vagaries of his mood.
But now that he lives in the perpetual high noon of medicated bliss, those days are past, thank goodness. He merely enjoys. Costco was a treat for him. While he could not buy the 50 inch tv (and indeed did not need to, since there is a bigger one in the house where he lives, right next door to his room), he liked knowing it was there, and that he owned the privilege to look at it anytime he wished.
I suppose this is one more place we can go for our field trips. It reminds me of when my son was small, and every place we went was a discovery and a wonderment--almost every place, that is. Now they are grateful just to leave the confines of their room, comfortable though it is. It is gratifying to know we have another stop for our weekly perigrinations.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

on the ropes

This afternoon I went to a rope yoga class. I don't have pictures for you, but we hung from ropes quite a bit, as well as doing the same positions out on the floor, or approximations of them. It was the first class I was able to get to all week, and I feel great.
The class was all the way out in Laguna Beach, but it was a beautiful afternoon there, despite the horrendous traffic. I didn't mind slowing down to look at the waves winking between rows of shops. I'll go back to class tomorrow morning in Mission Viejo and Saturday in Costa Mesa, and this weekend I'll make apple crisp for 45 at the Friendship Shelter in Laguna Beach. I'm looking forward to it. If I can, perhaps I can make it a regular gig, or semi-regular.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

TGISB (Thank God It's Spring Break--almost)

This business with the hospital and doctors has been a strain on me and no doubt on my parents as well, but I have not been dealing with it all that well. I drove around like an idiot yesterday looking for Jeremy's ballgame, when it turned out it was 5 minutes away from the college at Woodbridge. I drove to University High and to Northwood, only to be an hour late for the second game! But at least I got to watch that, though Jeremy played only in the first game. They won both!
I couldn't concentrate on anything yesterday, though somehow I managed to teach my class and go to Bookies, the book club at the college, as though nothing was amiss. Hanging out with the book club helped me relax a little, though I got through the teaching on sheer nerves, I think.
Today I have to take dad back to the doctor, and something tells me this is not going to be an easy meeting.
The truth is, both my parents are getting to the end of their lives, and it is time to talk about that openly. I know my dad is afraid, and I am not wanting to deal with this either with him, but I know I probably must, if he asks the doctor questions and this comes up. The cardiologist doesn't believe putting a pacemaker in is worth the risk, and that is part of what my dad's regular physician will discuss today. She is a firm believer in letting the natural process of dying go forward when it comes time to do that.
That is never easy to do, but the alternative is not pleasant. Why torture a person when s/he will die anyway in the end? The doctors I must deal with have various philosophies on this subject, and my parents and I are caught in the middle.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

hard weekend

It's been a difficult few days. After having to take both mom and dad to doctors on Thursday and undergoing a colonoscopy myself on Friday (no yoga), I took my parents to the botanical garden on Saturday afternoon. It was a beautiful warm afternoon, with the plants in their best flowering finery. I knew my dad would enjoy this, being a gardener, though mom really doesn't care too much about it and would prefer shopping. I was hoping maybe we could both save some money and enjoy the warm spring sunshine. But it didn't turn out that way at all.
We made our way around the small garden, especially enjoying the bizarrely shaped South African succulents, like the protea, shaped vaguely like pine cones. My mom is from South Africa, so I thought she might recognize some of them, and in fact she did, though she didn't seem all that impressed and merely complained that it was hot and hard to walk on the pebble path.
We walked up a small slope, and my dad seemed distressed, so I suggested we sit on a bench. As soon as we sat down, he felt a couple of sharp and very intense pains in his upper right arm. After a few minutes of hesitation, I called 911, and the ambulance eventually came, though it seemed like a long time. Actually, I wasn't handling it at all well; I was having a fit. I'm sure I wasn't much help to the 911 dispatcher. I'm grateful for cell phones though.
I ran out to the parking lot to guide the EMTs to the bench, but when we got back, my parents were gone! I found them a few minutes later walking around the back side of the garden toward the sloping path again, and made my dad sit on his walker's seat until the ambulance caught up with them.
After taking my mom home, I went to the hospital and stayed with dad for about 4 hours. When I left, he still hadn't been admitted, though he was waiting for hours for a room. He didn't have to sleep in the storage closet like last year though; when I saw him today, he had a room.
Tomorrow after work I must discuss the possibility of a pacemaker for my dad with his doctor. Apparently, his heart is literally skipping a beat. So see, this really does happen; it isn't just a metaphor! But it's not a desirable state of affairs.
The question is whether he is too elderly and infirm to survive even a rather routine surgery. But on the other hand, it might make it possible for him to withstand the angioplasty his doctor wanted to do last year, and decided he couldn't tolerate it.
From now on I will be sure to plug in my cell phone! What would have happened if it were out of power?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

more pictures and a tail attached

I thought I'd attach a few more pictures of Shadow and Whistler, who love each other as much as they can, in their neutered states, and tell you a little more about my family.
My great-uncle on my mother's side, Isaac Rosenberg, has always been an object of interest for my family, particularly me and my cousins from South Africa. The Rosenbergs came over from Lithuania after some virulent pogroms, and settled in the East End of London. As I have learned from scholarly studies about Rosenberg's early life and history, my great-grandfather on that side too was something of a n'er do well... probably I take after him. He and my great-grandmother hated each other, and after he reached England, he took off to be a peddler and itinerant philosopher. There he leaves the picture, so far as I know.
The Rosenbergs attracted disaster as a magnet does metal filings. My grandmother had one accident after another, being run over once by one of two early cars in Capetown. Her brother disappeared after he became too chummy with the Jewish mob in Chicago. Her sister was blown off a bridge into a cement mixer and smothered, a gothic Mary Poppins, on a windy London day. Isaac died at age 26 in a trench somewhere, scribbling poems, two of which are commonly anthologized among England's WWI poets. He was also an artist.
I would crop these photos, but I don't have a utility on my computer to do that, at least not one I can get to work.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

lost in spaciness

I can't find my poems, at least not all of them. I used to be the type to worry about this, to keep multiple copies of them around. But then I heard about someone who actually kept a tightly wrapped copy of her manuscript in the freezer. Then the freezer caught fire, and they were the first thing to burn! I have no doubt that they are around somewhere, but I don't know when or how I will find them.
It came up now because Dave at Qarrsiluni sent me notice that the magazine has a new issue coming up, and suggesting I send something. I had just the thing, but unfortunately, I couldn't find it. I have since found it, but already sent something else that will do nicely, though it's been around longer.
I spent some time yesterday gathering up all the poems on my computer that I could find and printing hard copies. If I can figure it out, I'll put them into a folder on the computer devoted to my poems. Richard has already done this, even though he is so much the Luddite (he refuses to have a cell phone, for example). Sometime soon, if I can find all the poems I've misplaced, maybe I'll put a manuscript together. That would make me feel good. Maybe when we move, I'll find hard copies of all the lost sheets, er, sheep.


The flu season is upon us, and although mom's pneumonia seems to be improving, my dad's whatever it is apparently is not. After I took mom to her oncology appt. at the beach (about an hour away for people like me who do not drive on freeways), I had to come back and ponder what to do about dad. In the end, I took him to the Veterans' clinic, about 3 miles away. I figured they did not take walkins, but I really did not feel I could sit all night in the emergency room after a full day of work and a visit to another doctor. So I took a chance, and the sympathetic women at the Veterans' clinic, which is new and still not heavily trafficked, took him in. He was so tired he almost fell over as they weighed him, his eyes swollen shut like a baby bird's. The physician's asst. talked to him as though he were a moron, and while he's lots of things (manipulative, sly, etc.) he isn't that. He doesn't wear his hearing aids anymore though because his hearing seems to have worsened and we can't afford a new pair and thus I suppose wore a clueless expression. He didn't have pneumonia, and he didn't get any cough medicine, but he'll be going back there on Friday. I won't be taking him though.