Sunday, June 29, 2008

Way Down South

I am in Atlanta GA, where my son will be playing in a national baseball tournament. I know this is most likely the last baseball tournament he will play in because he is not planning to go out for the team at the college to which he will be going in the fall (SCC). His coaches have encouraged him to try out, but he is tired, I think, and just needs a few months rest from baseball, which he has been playing pretty much nonstop since he was 9 years old. He loves the game, but he doesn't really know what it will feel like not to play it. Plus, with his learning disabilities, he will need extra time to work on his academics for the first time. I personally feel that he will change his mind, but lets give him the opportunity to find out.
The trip here was very quick (nonstop!) in a plane with individual tv screens. I didn't spring for the tv or HBO movies, but there were free games. I got hooked on Bejeweled, or whatever that thing is called. I can understand how people spend hours online playing that thing. My neck started to hurt, not to speak of my wrists!
Unfortunately though, our hotel is out in the boonies so I can't check the place out till Richard and his parents arrive from VA tomorrow. We didn' t rent a car. I hope that tomorrow sometime we will get down there and I can look downtown Atlanta over and see what all the fuss is about.
All I can tell you that it was the biggest ass airport I've ever seen, full of odiferous Eagle Scouts (about 100 of them), and more people than I've ever seen in one place, and that's saying something. I was thinking that it's odd that Philly, which is the 4th largest city in the country, has a tiny, unimproved airport, while this place has an enormous modern one. I guess we can tell where the money is.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Business as usual

Yesterday was one of those days I've grown to expect... and dread. It started out normally enough, but after yoga class, I was supposed to take my parents for a routine checkup at UCIMC, about an hour away, given my mother's trips to the bathroom and the necessity of strip-searching her for the multiple layers of clothing she has taken to wearing for weeks at a time if I am not vigilant--yesterday she had on three layers. The caregiver is unable to coax these off of her; she hides them and guards them practically with her life, and I am the only one able to ignore her hizzy fits and take them off of her.
Not too long into the examination, the doctor began palpating my mother's abdomen, site of her lymphoma tumor, which we believe to be inactive, according to the most recent tests, about 4 months ago. My mother obviously winced, though she denied having any outright pain. After repeating this simple test a few times, the doctor decided that we had to go to the emergency room. Even though her oncologist is at another hospital, the doctor decided for some reason to send us to the hospital where we were at the moment rather than the one where her records were kept. This might have been because of the upcoming vacation I have planned for this weekend; she wanted things done as soon as possible so that I would be able to change travel plans if necessary.
It happened, as these things often do, that this was the busiest day the emergency room at this hospital ever had. There were sick people parked in wheelchairs all over the halls, in every storage room and hallway. There were no rooms to be had at all, for hours and hours. And there we sat, top of the list to be treated. My mom was due to have a CT scan, but the scanners were full of trauma patients, victims of several terrible car accidents we heard about during our time in the waiting room, or I should say waiting rooms.
My mother has dementia, as you know. Therefore, she repeatedly insisted that she be permitted to leave, that there was nothing wrong with her, and even if there was, it was her business, not anyone else's. She embroidered this straightforward statement repeatedly with paranoid fantasies, such as the idea that everyone was leaving the state (for Las Vegas, in the latest version), and only we were going to be left here in this awful place (she hates it in California, partly because people of all different ethnicities abound, and are even her caretakers; being from South Africa of the apartheid period, she is a born racist). After about 5 hours of this, I had taken as much as I could, or more, of this stuff. Especially since I had nothing solid at all to eat yesterday up to that time, and being the only person of totally sound mind in the family, and the only one whose ears worked well enough to hear my mother's name called, I could not be spared to get food and bring it back to the waiting room. Plus, there was the promise that we were next, and the call could come at any moment.
At that point, blood sugar low and sick to death of the paranoid drivel, I am afraid that I lost it. I yelled at my mother to be quiet. I told her that if I took her home now, the doctor could have me removed as my parents' caretakers and have me replaced with a state-appointed conservateur, who might steal all my parents' money (such as it is) and place them in a county home.
Finally, the call came. We had arrived at the waiting room at the ER at about 1:20. It was already 5:30 PM or later when she was finally taken back into the ER for treatment (and we waited another 2 hours for that).
I went to the ATM, since I had no cash, only to learn it demanded an ATM card I didn't have. The cafeteria did not take checks, debit cards, or credit cards--only cash. I asked everyone where another ATM could be found, at this point, half out of my mind with exasperation and hunger. If I had the patience to go across the street to a business or hotel, I could have found one easily, but I didn't, so I started to cry. I had reached the last layer of my resistance and besides, was about to lose my vacation and be stuck until next year unable to escape this situation.
Wandering hopelessly on the hospital grounds, I passed the nurse from the Senior Health Center who had wheeled my mother to the ER. She asked what was wrong, and offered to take money out of the ATM in exchange for a check, an offer I gratefully accepted.
When I got to the cafeteria, there was no food left. However, a short-order cook was present to make hamburgers and grilled foods and there were a few things left in the salad bar, so I got food for my father and myself; my mother was not permitted to eat because of the upcoming scan of her abdomen.
After eating, we both felt quite a bit better, but my father was extremely tired, and insisting that he be taken home to go to take his medication and go to bed. Although the prospect of driving home and back to see if mom was to be sent home was daunting, and my son was working and my husband out of town, I didn't see any other option, so I set off, only to receive a call from the nurse after about 10 minutes that my mother had a urinary tract infection, and was being released, a call my father regarded as a miracle, an answer to his prayer.
I still had to fill mom's prescription; it was 9:45 by the time I got them home, getting the caretaker out of bed to undress, wash, and put them to bed.
Today I tackle a list of "honeydos" my father made for me that will demand a visit to at least 5 stores. Then, of course, I must deliver them. But I am grateful for the reprieve. I am sure we have not heard the last from that tumor, but this time, it seems, I am free to go on my vacation... !

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Workshop update

Our little workshop continues to be a tight group. Though we have lost a few along the way, the remaining students are interested and engaged, for the most part. Everyone is progressing apace, and people reference earlier lessons when talking about the pieces submitted during the current week. However, I have just learned that one of the stories had a plot stolen wholly from a film I hadn't seen. I'm going to check that out and decide what to do about it, if it's true.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Internet addiction?

I just listened to a show on public radio where a psychiatrist argued that there should be an entry in the DSM, the official bible of psychological diagnoses, for internet addiction. Apparently, the criteria is not the amount of time one spends online, but the effect this time has on one's actual (ie: not virtual) life, relationships, job, etc. That sounds sensible, but it raises a rather interesting question of what constitutes a disorder in itself and what is merely a symptom of something else.
I suppose one could even argue that those who spend lots of precious time writing (and reading) blog entries suffer from some sort of pathological condition. However, I suspect as with most things, it has everything to do with one's attitude toward the activity and not so much with the activity itself.
For some people playing the lottery occasionally is a minor amusement that they could dispense with easily. For others, it is a vital part of their every day lives. They might feel that should they skip a day or not buy many dollars worth of tickets every day, they would cause their own financial ruin, when they are actually probably facilitating that ruin by playing those tickets. In this case, as in other similar ones, it's not the lottery tickets but the attitude that makes all the difference, and minus lottery tickets, they might take this attitude toward anything at all, even something people might regard in a positive way in most instances.
So perhaps the internet is not the problem? Yet I don't buy the maxim that "Guns don't kill people; people kill people." Isn't this the same argument?
Ah consistency! It makes my head hurt!

difficult phase

Jeremy is going through a difficult phase right now. He is almost 18, and having graduated from high school, naturally feels that he is the master of his own fate. However, as all of us who have been that age know, there's plenty to learn yet. Kids need their parents to advise them and help them to navigate the big decisions that are coming up.
But being who he is, Jeremy is not willing to ask for or take that kind of advice. As when he was about 5, he has decided that he doesn't need us anymore, and goes out of his way to defy any minimal rules we lay down. Right now, this involves refusing to take his medicine, and also getting as little food and sleep as possible. We have to pretend we don't care, and then he'll allow himself to eat and sleep.
I realize it is "normal" for kids this age to pull away from their parents; however, Jeremy always carries things a good bit further than others his age. This phase is no different.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

family visit

My uncle Bill, dad's half brother, visited today. He went with us for a picnic at the beach so that we could escape the miserably hot weather, and we did escape it for a while. However, it was almost too hard for my parents to manage such a trip. They have really aged a lot. Even dad wasn't very animated or enthusiastic, and wanted nothing more than to lie down for a nap on the grass.
My uncle tried to convince me to spend the money from the sale of my parents' house to buy us a home. We have always rented up till now, and it would be a big help to have a place paid off by the time we are old. I am not likely to touch that money though till my parents are gone. I have nightmares about running out of money and having to put them in a substandard place. Mom complains as it is, and dad gets weary of having all the people at the house die on him.
I will hope that there is still some money left after they are gone and that the price of real estate is still half-way affordable. Who knows what will happen? Certainly not me.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

A link to a clip of Mr. Iyengar's yoga, etc.
Remember as you watch this that the man is almost 90 years old.
While I'm at it with links, my friend Marly has published some terrific poems at the following link:
And Robin, at would be glad to have any pieces about cats and their people you might want to send her.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jeremy's graduation

My son Jeremy graduated from Northwood High School yesterday afternoon. Although he had really spent this year doing next to nothing of any substance at all (he had finished most of his high school course work and just wanted to play baseball his senior year), I was surprised at how emotional I got watching the graduation. It is still a rite of passage and an indication that however much of a child he still is, he is "grown up" in many ways.
I was also moved by the warmth of the ceremony. Compared to my own horrible high school in Philadelphia, which looked like a factory and felt like one too, this school is full of truly dedicated teachers (not all of them, of course, but many) who seem genuinely to care about the students. Although it is not a small school, which is why the graduation took place at the Bren Center at the University, the teachers seem to know each student, and hugged each one as s/he came up to get the diploma. In contrast, my high school graduation was an exercise in alienation.
The students reciprocated by enthusiastically singing the school song, complete with gestures. There were no pranks; everyone seemed full of affection and love.

Monday, June 16, 2008

technology wins again

As you can see, despite my attempts to download photos of pineapply lilies from the Internet, I haven't been able to do it. There is also a film clip I got as an email attachment of BKS Iyengar, who founded the school of yoga I practice, doing amazing things with his body at the age of 88 or so. I wanted to show it to all of you, but do not know how. I have glanced at the HELP on blogger, and as usual, it seems mystifying to me. Any assistance would be welcomed.

Father's Day after the fact

As it turns out, my mom now loves bbq! She practically inhaled her plate of bbq chicken with fries, cadging choice bits of dad's brisket plate and sweet potato fries. It is odd because I cannot imagine her pre-dementia self eating such messy stuff! She was always the type to enjoy a white tablecloth at tea time, and I remember when I was a child how she relished dressing me up and donning little white gloves to go downtown. But now, she is an entirely different person. Or perhaps she was this person all along and her repression kept her from admitting it.
Everyone enjoyed the meal, and it was a multipurpose celebration because Jeremy graduates tomorrow at 3 and Robin's birthday is coming up, so we were a merry crew.
I ended up taking my dad to UCI arboratum to get plants at their monthly sale. He got a beautiful pineapple lily. I will try to insert a picture of one with a flowering spike (his doesn't have any flowers as yet). The leaves are lovely too though.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Father's Day

Tomorrow is Father's Day, and again, I'm afraid, my imagination has failed me. I have not come up with gifts or perfect venues to celebrate! I bought my dad some pjs; Richard is impossible. He does not want anything except to go out to eat, and he won't tell me where he'd like to go. I think we'll just go eat bbq at Beach Pit, though we could try Boneheads, which is supposed to have intriguing sauces. But Beach Pit has a new restaurant nearby. I don't think my mom will like it, but my dad will love it. I know Richard and Jeremy like it, and so do I, though it isn't the most refined food to come down the pike.
I also want to get my dad a plant. He likes to grow strange things, especially fruits and veggies. Any ideas? Also I don't know where to get them, except to go to the farmer's market today or the swap meet tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

shitty kitty

One of my cats customarily craps on the floor. Everyone who knows me well knows about the famous Shadow, whose picture and name are on this very site. I think this happens partly because of something in her past. Perhaps she grew up feral as a kitten or partly so. Her wild behavior when she first arrived her two and a half years ago suggests as much. But whatever tactics I have employed, although she has become a loving and charming little cat, the litter box behavior persists. She urinates in the box, never outside of it, and is scrupulous about covering it up. However, most of the time, she poops outside the box. I have tried many different kinds of litter, as well as being quite careful to clean up poops as soon as possible and to spray with something that will take away all smell of waste, but she apparently still detects it somehow. Thinking that perhaps she'd use the box if I moved the big box to the bathroom and left the small one in Jeremy's hall, I switched them, but so far, no cigar.
Shadow has also become very aggressive towards Whistler, my obese and withdrawn Snoeshoe cat. She yanks out great hunks of hair and chases him around.
I am pretty sure both cats are really bored, though I cannot find it in me to entertain them day and night. I enjoy their company, but I don't want to wave things in front of them all the time.
I have to clean up the living room so there is someplace for a cat tree that will allow them to look out of the window. Now that the aquarium is gone (or at least empty), I can open the shutters during the day and put a tree by the window. I have been checking out cat tree prices on Ebay, and have found some with free shipping. It would cost less than getting one at a yard sale, and I am not so hot at finding those anyhow.
Let's hope that does something to alter her behavior.

Monday, June 9, 2008

boys are different

I interrogated Jeremy this morning before he went to school, eager to learn something about his experience at the prom. But as I expected, he simply repeated, as a p.o.w. might his name and serial number, "It went fine." No enthusiasm. No giveaway facial expression. Nothing.
This is typical for boys, I am told. Certainly Jeremy has not told me anything of consequence since perhaps kindergarten, and even then, he was reluctant to say anything.
As a child of about 10, when he had problems with a medication and needed to see a therapist, he would say nothing as long as my husband and I were in the room. I suspect he said little even after we left the room. The therapist and he played checkers or some other game, and probably said little that was not related to the game. When he first visited his psychiatrist, he ran away at UCI Medical Center and had to be hauled back by the police.
So I gave up. No prom related news to report, unfortunately.
I am sure that had Jeremy been female, he would have gabbed insessantly about what happened at the prom. I didn't go to the prom myself; besides the fact that no one at my high school wanted to go out with me (except one or two who wanted not only to date but to marry me, but whom I did not care to have this kind of relationship with), it wasn't considered cool to go to the prom when I graduated. We ridiculed those who went. Instead, we attended political events, like sit-ins and moratoriums, and occasionally smoked dope and went down the shore. Or others did... marijuana just made me sneeze.
So we were amused to hear about the scandalous incidents that unfolded there... the acid-spiked punch bowl claimed the class president and prom king and queen as victims. Reportedly, they fell down a flight of stairs. An awful time was had by all, or so I heard. Since I once myself fell victim to acid-spiked jello salad, I wouldn't be surprised at all if this were true.
Things have apparently changed quite a bit. Jeremy's friend did tell me a little about the prom. It almost ended early for him when he inadvertently offended his date by not clearing out when she wanted to talk about him with her friend. He said they patched things up, and continued to party until about 3 AM. But no details were forthcoming, even from him.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

not a mistake after all

Miraculously, Lou's comment (and mine) are still there! So my last post was for naught!


I was tinkering with the comments to my latest blog entry, and I made some mistakes in a reply to Lou's comments. I wanted to edit my comment, and was told that wasn't possible, so I erased my comment--or I meant to. In the process, I erased all comments to that post, including Lou's. Sorry. It was not deliberate! Lou quipped that sometimes lead was an appropriate lining, and I quipped right back that this was so if the lining in question protected a patient from X-rays, but lead inside a parachute, for example, would not work well. My negative turn of mind has indeed protected me at times from the dangers that surrounded me, but now, apart from that environment, it all too often drags me down. Hard to change, these habits of mind.
Lou also requested comments on the prom; however, Jeremy has not yet returned from the prom. He called at 1 AM and said he was staying overnight at a party, as he had warned he might do. Naturally, neither of us got any sleep for the rest of the night!
In fact, I didn't even see Jeremy or his date dolled up in their finery. Richard and I were at a play, a very funny one--Taking Steps--at SCR, at we really had a great time. So I'm afraid I have nothing as yet to report about prom, and perhaps Jeremy will tell me nothing, as usual. I often feel like a military interrogator, but I'm unwilling to administer forceful methods to extract information, I'm afraid. Who knows how much I'll learn? But I'll spill any beans I manage to acquire.

Friday, June 6, 2008

the lead lining

As befits my famously negative constitution, I see a bad side to my experience teaching a workshop, one that has opened up my life and allowed me to alter the pattern I had fallen into in my life for the last few years. That is that I may not get to do this again for some time, and just when I have discovered that it is something I want to do on a regular basis.
One of the students who had to drop the class because of childcare problems requested that I go teach a poetry workshop at UCI's extension. She assured me that if I were to do that, she would be first in line to take it.
I am enjoying teaching fiction writing to beginning students because I am simultaneously teaching myself, but I will see how the poetry section of the class goes in the coming weeks. I may be looking into the possibility of teaching such a class at UCI, if I can fit that into my schedule in the coming year.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Report: the workshop

Last night's class went very well. Despite our tiny size (10 students, if the latest, a high school student about to take the assessment test, is permitted to stay), we are a mighty bunch, with enthusiasm and interest in the materials under discussion. I feel very pleased with the way students cooperate, in general, and think that the ones left will most likely stay to the end of the semester. Of course, not all of them are equal in ability, but they are willing to listen and cooperative, and that is all I can ask.
The students loved the description exercises, Lou! They still need to work on this skill, and I will certainly come back to it in one form or another, possibly this upcoming week when we discuss creating characters. Any suggestions for that one?

Monday, June 2, 2008

tomorrow's lesson: Writing meets Yoga

Every time I go to yoga class, which I do maybe 4-5 times per week, my teachers stress the contrary actions necessary to do a yoga asana or pose. The front of the arm turns in toward the face, while the back of the arm turns outward, for example. The word "yoga" itself is said to mean "yoking," tying these opposites together into a balanced whole.
I would submit, along with the Structuralists, who rode the hobbyhorse of unified opposites almost to eternity, that writing is also a matter of yoking opposites. Writing a narrative is a matter of telling a story that moves forward relentlessly in time. However, that is not all there is to it, as badly written, plot-heavy narratives will testify. If it were, just having a juicy story to tell at the water cooler would be sufficient and we wouldn't need literature or writers. But it's the way someone tells a story that matters, the words that person chooses, the details she hangs the story on. Description delays the forward action of a narrative, making the reader stop smack in the middle of a sentence while the writer inspects in a loving, leisurely way the interior of the fridge from which the character takes his slightly flat bottle of Sam Addams, or the scuffed finish of the maple living room suite, circa 1975, with its homely plaid sofa. And without it, no one would care how the story ends.
Today I visited my friend Reb's literary blog, The Mark on the Wall, ,which linked me to a lecture in which a writer named Ron Carlson who teaches at UCI dissected a hunk of a story he had written for an audience of aspiring writers in UCI's MFA program, phrase by phrase and sentence by sentence. It was fascinating because it emphasized the process I describe above: the writer has a story in mind, or a piece of a story, an incident, but he has to build the setting, the context for this story, as a jewelry maker designs the setting for a precious stone. And he does it, as it were, in the dark, having no real idea where he is going with this. In fact, part of the reason he perseveres in the process, which is often fruitless and frustrating and frequently thankless, is that he is simply curious to see where it goes, to learn what tricks his own mind has in store for him.
In my experience, which mostly involves poetry, writing is not quite like this. I might have one image or a particular rhthym stuck in my head, and mostly there is description, but not necessarily narrative, though it can and does happen too. Or I might have a feeling, and nothing else. Maybe that is the difference between fiction and poetry? Who knows.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

cash dilemma

Last night I went to the fundraiser at the synagogue, a formal dinner and dance where the participants were a sight to behold as impressive as the stars at any red-carpet Hollywood event. I would not usually be interested in or attracted by this sort of hoopla, as I am not particularly impressed by money. But two people at the synagogue whom I respect were being honored by the event, so I arranged to volunteer, and naively assumed that I would therefore be permitted to take part in it, like anyone else, in exchange for my labor. The one uncomfortable difference was that I was not going to be permitted to sit at the table to eat with my friends from the choir, and had to eat dinner with the other volunteers in a separate room.
As it turned out, however, I was not going to be allowed to enter the gala at all, even just to hear the honorees' speeches. Even the help at the party (the paid help, I mean) hesitated before handing over the gingerale I ordered at the free bar, though he finally gave it to me, and to be fair, all the volunteers got champagne and rather forlorn appetizers.
I had chosen the volunteer route because I did not wish to go begging for a hand-out, and thought, as I said, that a work-exchange was the most sensible way to to do this. I held up my end of the bargain. It turned out that there was a lot to do at the party.
Whenever committees rule and no one person particularly is in charge, confusion tends to ensue. By the end of the evening I was one of the only volunteers left in the room, trying to catch all the loose ends, running after people in my heels (luckily, they were sensible, small heels, as befits my difficult feet) to hand them their receipts, being sure they were paid up for the fund-raising dinners and parties they had pledged to attend. But I ended up the evening at about 8:00 in a room with a dozen or so retired people and teenagers, munching stale sandwiches. None of them had assumed they were going to be allowed to enter that room. So what's wrong with me that I didn't understand that, that I resented it?
It simply seems wrong to me to create a subset of second-class citizens, workers who, it is understood by all (except me, apparently), are just not going to be the ones being feted and fussed over or doing the feting and fussing either. I would respectfully suggest that the synagogue brass rethink this system, though I clearly understand that it was a fundraising event, and that exhorbitant rents and morgages demand a constant flow of cash.
We are supposed to be a family, and, having been the poor relative for much of my life, I am not now interested in being a poor cousin in the organization, especially since I have chosen to work at a far less lucrative but no less important job than my brethren in the synagogue.
What if I had decided this year to run for a synagogue office on the Board? Would I then have been treated in the same way? If so, I would submit, there is something wrong with the system.
I have left synagogues before because I felt this divide. However, I have too many ties to leave this one now for the same reason.