Tuesday, September 30, 2008

L'Shanah Tova in the Apocalypse

Lately I feel like it's the end of the world, and I know that I'm not alone. So it's comforting to celebrate the same old cycle of the seasons and the holidays, and to feel that the rising sense of hysteria I hear in the news reports is an illusion, the product of a severely foreshortened perspective rather like that millenialists have, when they prepare, regularly, for the coming of judgment.
How soothing to sing the same songs, see the same faces I've seen for years, and to remember these people as I've known them, having watched their children as well as my own grow up. It made me feel that I need to step back and view the situation we're in now as the feeling of a moment and not of the age.
Whatever happens on Wall Street and in our economy at large and in the election, life will go on. We will all still be muddling along in our little lives, trying, with various levels of success, to be the best people we can. That doesn't mean we should all just step back and let it go on without us, but if things don't turn out the way we envisioned, there will be a way to change things, to cut them to fit the shapes we desire.
Human beings are truthfully not meant to be alone. We need each other, need the web of community to catch us when we fall. I suspect that even if things go horribly wrong, as long as that web persists, we'll bounce back, perhaps better than before.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Mom, Dwindling

Today I dropped off at my parents' place after yoga, intending to check out the shoe situation. I never see my mother without her complaining bitterly about her shoes. She has a fantasy that they have lots and lots of money in the bank, and that I am keeping it from her, stealing it, as I stole all the shoes and other riches in the house on Stirling St. If I only hand over some of this money, she reasons, dad will whisk her off to the store to buy whatever she wants, and I won't have to have any part in it. All the clothes, all the shoes I buy her, she complains, are the wrong size, wrong style, wrong everything, even though she tries them on and asks to buy them. They are not what she wants.
So with her 92nd birthday coming up next Saturday, I planned to have her try on all the many shoes buried at the back of the closet to see if there were any she could wear. There were three pair of brand new shoes, two of them quite expensive, with the price tags still attached. She received complements when she wore them the one time she had them on, but she will not wear them, claiming that one pair hurts across the toes and the other is too heavy and too wintery for this place. She forgets that it does get cool enough here for her to go about the whole of December, January, darn well through March and April, in warm woolen coats with fur hoods and sweaters. Being so thin and getting thinner, she is always cold, even in the summer, like a chihuahua.
I had thought about taking her to SAS to have some shoes properly fitted. Of course, they are very expensive, but my dad enjoys his pair, which fixed the pain he used to get in his feet. So why should we deprive her? But I wasn't going to do that till I made her try all the shoes on, and made sure there was nothing there she could wear without pain.
I found about 5 pair she said she could wear. But as soon as I told her to put on a pair of them and we'd go on over to Nordstrom Rack and get some socks and things and maybe even an outfit if she wanted for a birthday gift, she said she couldn't wear them, that none of the shoes was any good, and that she wanted new ones. I realized there was no hope. Any new shoes we bought, fitted or not, were fated to end up as these had, at the back of the closet, forsaken.
It's not about shoes, but about everything she has lost, that old age and dementia has taken from her. She didn't want to go. It's more important to her to complain.
As I stood there impatiently, waiting for her to decide whether she wanted to go or not (she didn't), I watched her dump a bag of almonds out in her dresser drawer, and immediately began to gather them up to throw them away. They, and the chocolate she had dumped out there, were full of weevils. So I told her that she would not be able to have treats in the room anymore. She will have to ask for them, and be given a portion until the next time she wants some more.
I feel bad. Yet another thing taken away from her. But this is how the house ended up the way it was at the end, full of rodents and insects.
Deaf as she is, she thought I was angry at her. She asked, "Does this mean you aren't coming to see us anymore? Like my son at the age of 4 when I growled angrily at him for some small thing he did, she looked up at me like a lost puppy, and tore my heart right out of my chest.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

New Year thoughts

At Rosh Ha'Shanah, one naturally thinks of all the people she has known who have drifted away for one reason or another. I am thinking of a couple of people who were very good friends, but this past year became alienated from me. I could write to them, but I think at least one of them and I have irreconcilable differences.
This was a very very good friend, but she decided at some point that she couldn't be friends with someone who did not have the same religious convictions that she held. And I suppose that I feel similarly--that I cannot be friends with someone who has beliefs like that.
Oh well! Perhaps some time I will see or hear from that person again. Closed doors can always open.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Another thing

Today I was listening to "All Things Considered" on the radio and heard about one of my personal landmarks: the old pipe organ at the former site of the Wanamakers department store in Philadelphia.
Whenever a person from Philly wanted to meet up with someone, that's where we told that person to go. The store was located in an old, 19th century building. I'm not exactly sure when it was built or what its original purpose was. But when I knew it, in the 50s and 60s mostly, it was a department store, the grand old kind, with magnificent holiday window displays full of animatronic figures of the old-fashioned, non-computerized kind, run by gears. There was a tiny ice-skating rink for toddlers on the 10th floor every Christmas, and concerts by the enormous pipe organ at noon every day.
The hall itself had a very high ceiling, but if an observer looked up and up, the organist was visible up there on the mezzanine, laboring away at the organ, which is the biggest instrument of its kind in the US and perhaps the world. It makes a grand rich sound and is very impressive to look at as well.
I was pleased to learn that although the store long ago went bust and the organ has had some hard times since then, the Macys that currently occupies the building has allowed a group of volunteers to recondition the organ and to continue working on it to keep it at its best.
If I ever go back to Philadelphia, I want to visit there again.
Here's a link to an article about the organ:

New Year

It's almost Jewish New Year, Rosh Ha Shanah, literally, the head of the year. I haven't sent out my cards or apologized to people I figure I owe apologies to. So in case I owe you one, this one is for you. I'm sure I inadvertently hurt a lot of people since I have contact with so many on a daily basis. If so, please forgive me.
If you owe me an apology, go ahead and apologize. I'm listening.
I'm going to try to keep up the table, which looks pristine and neat. And I'm going to try to get my writing done every once in a while, despite all the other work I have to do, and to keep my temper, though my buttons are pushed so often and so hard. That's enough to work on I guess.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Cleaning up

Last night, J went ballistic. He started to snatch up all the letters, catalogs, and papers from the table and the floor and to demand of me whether I wanted to keep them or not. He was like a bulldog, yanking me here and there (psychologically), not giving me a moment to think. Any hesitation and BOOM! whatever it was went into the trash. I found old bills I had not paid, ancient catalogs, old medications. We sorted these and tossed several bags of trash. Then, the whirlwind gained even more momentum, and J went into his room and with no hint of nostalgia whatsoever, tossed half his childhood into the bin, and most of the cats' toys too. Admittedly, they never played with these.
The place looks better, but it was a difficult experience while it was going on. R sat mute, and when it got too contentious, left for a while to take a long walk. J. apologized afterwards, and asked that I please try not to go back to my bad old ways.
Perhaps the national financial collapse is rather like this. I used to wish that something would come along and cause the whole mess of a dysfunctional economic and political system to self-destruct, so we could start over and maybe do better this time. I figured it would be kind of like when I clean out the closet. For a while, there is a terrible terrible scary mess. It seems as though the chaos will never clear out. But it begins after a while to thin, and order again reigns, at least for a while. With a lot of work and a modicum of pain, it eventually takes on some sort of shape. But the problem is, that though this metaphor works in the abstract, there are millions of human beings involved, their lives and their suffering. I feel like a child who believes an errant wish has caused catastrophe, though I know this is magical thinking. Like after 9-11, Ifind myself avoiding the news. But that's not going to change anything. I wish I could fast forward a few years and see how it turns out--without going through the horrible mess stage. But we'll all make it. We always do.

Monday, September 22, 2008

On the subject of food...

Last night, while playing a long, drawn out game of Scrabble with R, where he murdered me with the Q and the Z, and I was unable to find a place for a 7 letter word, even though I had an S, we watched Iron Chef American. That show is interesting sometimes, especially when there's an oddball ingredient and one is curious to see what the chefs will do with it.
This time it was carrots. Carrots are utilitarian vegetables. Everyone cooks with and eats them, but they seldom become the centerpiece of a meal. In these dishes though, the carrot featured prominently. There were some expected sorts of things, like desserts. Carrots make good quick breads and cakes, and apparently they can also be used to make ice cream, although I hadn't thought of it. Both chefs made soups out of them, and they seemed really really good. I want to try the one with smoked turkey wings and carrots. There were even dishes where carrots stood in for pasta or meat. All of them were really intriguing, and they gave me some ideas. I guess I need to buy some new carrots. The ones in the crisper look like an 80 year old's hairy flaccid gams.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

So much for the Saturday glow...

I brought home the fish I bought yesterday, sauteed some garlic and onion in butter, rubbed on some spice mix, and threw in some heirloom cherry tomatoes with the fish. When it was done, crisp and brown, I tossed some penne with it. It was quite good, I thought. But neither R nor J would eat it at all. Most of it still sits uneaten in the fridge in a glass bowl.
That was very discouraging. I wonder what I did wrong, since they happily ate the John Dory I fixed in a similar sort of way, sans pasta and tomato. I won't gussy it up next time, or maybe I'll go back to John Dory and quit while I'm ahead.
My family doesn't want to eat what I cook, so I'd like to change my direction in the sorts of meals I choose to make. I love ethnic foods, particularly Asian. Lately I have been fixing Vietnamese with fresh vegetables, small amounts of meat, and fresh rice noodles. I think they are very fresh and tasty, but I seem to be alone in this. J says he is totally sick of Asian foods. He wants American food, whatever that is.
I don't eat hotdogs or hamburgers, though I'll gladly buy and fix them for him and for R if he wants them. I prefer Indian, Middle eastern, Vietnamese, and Chinese.
They don't like my native Jewish foods, and truthfully, for the most part I don't blame them. Jewish food is heavy. It is full of fat and the meat is cooked to the point of hardness. But I don't cook beef since R's and my cholesterol is so high. I make only chicken and turkey in all of its many and various forms, and occasionally lamb (very occasionally). Some fish of some kind every week, maybe twice a week. And vegetarian whenever I can. I don't eat cheese, but I'm glad to make it for R and J. They don't like my chicken soup, which is peasant style, with lots of stuff in it, like legs, gizzards, necks, and an occasional matzo ball. In the winter I make leek and potato soup and sometimes even bake a foccacio to go along with it, topped with rosemary, garlic, and wrinkled green or black pitted olives.
Let's face it: I don't have a lot of time to cook these days. Perhaps my cooking reflects this. I need to relax in the kitchen the way I do in yoga class.
I try hard to think up and cook tasty and healthy food. Seems as if most of the time, except for a couple favorites, like burritos and green beans with ground meat, I don't hit the jackpot.
With the holidays coming up, I am looking around for likely new favorites.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Farmer's Market

Going to the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning always puts me in a sunny mood. Even if I don't buy much and merely check out the produce and the crowd, which is always full of people I know from various places in my life, it does me good to smell the sweet fruit and herbs, to check out other sorts of wares, and to hear the offerings of musicians of different kinds at opposite ends of the market. The country western guy, who proclaimed a few weeks ago with a wry smile, "Hi! I'm Johnny Cash!" is gone now, and a more autumnal late sixties type chanteuse with long blonde hair and a reedy voice accompanies herself with a guitar. It's hard to hear her over the vigorous electric guitar of the kid down the row. His tip basket, which is quite capacious, is full of dollar bills, full to overflowing, yet he keeps going, heedless of this and of everything but the lick he plays with his whole body, not just his fingers.
All the usual sales people are there--the fish guy, and I stop and pick out a lovely piece of Hawaiian Opakapaka (sp?), a type of bass, and the fruit stand that has what are unquestionably the best pluots in town, though I have never actually laid out the $2.50 per pound and bought them. I keep promising myself I will. Today there was a new person, who for $10. per person, will throw a "garden party" at your house for you and up to 10 people where each person can make a miniature garden, complete with little figures, moss, a garden gate, etc. They are really wonderful. The plants are nice too, nothing that I've ever seen in a little dish garden before. For example, she had eggplant plants with fruit hanging from them in a metal bucket, where they looked like shade trees. Herbs played the role of willows. You can imagine what I mean, I'm sure.
I used to make dish gardens and give them away as gifts years ago. Generally, they were cactus and succulents, in a glass bowl with different colors of sand layered in. Sometimes I would make a design with a skewer, like birds flying or mountains. But these were much nicer than any of my efforts. I've never been much good at crafts or anything with my hands. This person is an artist.
It's my mom's birthday soon, but she really doesn't know it and doesn't care about plants. My dad does. So it will be better simply to take her to eat bbq chicken, which she loves, and let her get sauce all over herself. That will make her happiest, at this point. Besides that, I could get her a pair of shoes, but why bother? Her feet, covered with callouses, will hurt no matter how much we pay for them. I have bought her so many pairs of shoes, as you know, and still she complains with every step and all but one of them sit unworn. Like a small child, she's happiest with small things.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Marly's marvelous email

My friend Marly has sent a wonderful YouTube video of crazy tricks with post it notes. If you haven't seen it, follow the link below:

Painful mystery

It's odd. I've been suffering from a hip complaint for the past two years or so. I seem to be out of wack, with one side higher than the other. This sometimes involves a lot of pain. At one point, I could not stand for more than about 15 minutes without suffering excrutiating hip and leg pain that was bad enough to make me weep.
I went to the doctor and got an x-ray, but nothing was visible there. Since I do Iyengar yoga classes at least 5 times per week, and have for years, I was also simultaneously working with my yoga teachers to address this problem, still am, in fact. And I tried acupuncture and a chiropractor too. The pain morphed; it is no longer in the same spot as before; nor is it as painful when I am simply standing or walking. But now, the hamstring attachments hurt at times, and sometimes it is difficult to sleep.
Strangely enough though, a couple of nights ago, I had a throbbing pain in my right index finger, which I interpreted as the beginnings of carpal tunnel. I couldn't sleep. But my hip didn't hurt at all!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Someone Else's Kid

Today I finally took that student to the Disabled Students Office... you know, the one I think is autistic. He won't do anything he's told or advised to do himself, including homework or getting assistance. Apparently, no one at home helps him either. He doesn't know how to use a computer, so he tells me himself, so he can't pick up the emails, assignments, and texts I post online. It makes it very very difficult to work with him and help him to pass this class, even though I believe he has the native ability to do that, beneath all of this socialization stuff.
So I had the rest of the students get into groups and I asked him to come with me to the Disabled Students' Office, where he will be tested for a program that will provide assistance. Someone will make sure he learns how to use a computer, or if that's not possible, will help him to download and answer email and other things he receives for his classes. So that's a relief, but the draft is due next Tuesday, and he doesn't have a clue how to write it. The thesis was due today, but he didn't know how to write it, even though I went over that pretty thoroughly. Of course, the sample was online, but I printed up a copy for him too. I don't think he is able to verbalize what he knows. He may indeed know much more than he thinks. And he won't agree to a time outside of class to meet with me.
But I'm doing what I can do, even if that isn't much.
And also today, I came home for the second time in about a month to the smell of weed in my kitchen. I asked Jeremy if that was pot I smelled. He said no... he burned some eggs. Same thing he said last month. I've never known him to cook anything that wasn't done in a microwave, so I didn't believe him. This time he called me after he left the house for class and told me he was smoking, and that he did it about 3 times per week because it helped his stress, also that he's throwing up again. The psychiatrist talked to him about this... it's because of anxiety, but he isn't willing to take meds for this problem or become more aware of what's making him anxious, so there's nothing we can do about it right now.
Naturally, I said I thought he was medicating his anxiety with pot, but he can't see that right now. He'll have to come to that conclusion by himself, when it becomes too embarassing or difficult to be puking every day or so without understanding what it's all about. It took me years to deal with my anxiety. I'm sure he'll be like me in that way.
But I told him that unless I saw the problem of smoking weed instead of dealing with his anxiety another way getting worse, I wouldn't discuss it with my husband. Right now, it's probably not as bad as a lot of other things he could be doing, and I appreciate his honesty in telling me about it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Off the old hobbyhorse

Okay, enough about that. Now that I'm back again teaching comp, I'm getting ideas for critical books on lit. I have always been interested in authorship; that's why I wrote a dissertation on Nabokov, one of the most controlling authorial figures around. But now, since I've been teaching Butler's story "Bloodchild," a science fiction story , I have some other ideas, or at least other branches of the same concerns.
The story examines the plight of a handful of humans of various races (unspecified) at some time in the dystopic future, Butler's customary place in her stories. These individuals have been driven off of earth and landed up some generations past on another planet inhabited by insectoid intelligent life that isn't all that welcoming, particularly at first. But at the point at which the story takes place, the two species have arrived at a trade of sorts:
the insect race protects the humans in their own little preserve, where they can form family groups, reproduce, and build a relatively normal human life. In return, the matriarchal insects will give up one male member of their family to serve repeatedly as host for the larvae of one of the insect race, a painful and potentially deadly process, since the larvae, once hatched, have a thirst for mammalian blood, and will eat the host alive if they are not removed in time.
Butler ups the ante by writing an afterward saying that despite critics' insistance, the story is not about slavery, but about "male pregnancy" and coming of age.
I asked my students to tackle this conundrum, defining slavery, and arguing one way or another: is it about slavery or not? And if so, why would Butler claim this, particularly since she has written several books that she openly admits investigate the relationship between master and slave.
I find Butler's claims to be part of a tradition of authorship begun perhaps by Henry James. James famously wrote volumes of prefaces for the various editions of his stories and novels in which he elliptically made various claims for them. James famously obscured and mystified the process by which he created his works by seeming to lay it bare. Like a magician, he wrote prefaces that performed acts of prestidigitation that leave us gaping and puzzled, wondering what he might be saying in all those entangled clauses.
Nabokov carries this tradition into the 20th century, warring opening with critics and Freudians with teasing hints that manipulate the hapless reader and potential critic. He even published a book of "interviews," Strong Opinions, in which he more or less interviews himself, asking the questions, editing the answers, editing the resulting interviews.
Butler, while not seeming to belong in the company of these modernist male mouthpieces, obscures her own purposes as well, though not for the same reasons, I would argue. We need to remember who Butler was writing to. It was mostly male, adolescent audiences who read science fiction in the 70s. They weren't too open to political themes or politically marginal ones anyhow. And they weren't interested in race or gender at all. So how could Butler maintain and grow her audience? She needed to obscure what she was doing by infiltrating these themes and concerns in under the guise of the personal and the familiar.
It's an interesting issue, and one worthy of a book, if someone hasn't already written it. There are probably lots of other writers I haven't even thought of who build hedges around their work to protect it or to ward readers off in various ways.
It would be interesting to write that book.

Train wreck

Waiting for the election is kind of like standing there seeing a train wreck is going to occur and not being able to do anything about it. I see that terrible consequences that will accrue from the Dems' loss, but the fact that we are still the country that is so blind to race and gender that it denies its blatent racism and sexism and the contradictions in its own major documents (ie: a country that declares on one hand that it believes in equality, yet holds slaves; one that says and means that all "men" --read WHITE males of a certain class--are born equal) keeps the engineer on course. Perhaps that engineer of our collective fates is like the one who evidently steered the Amtrak train in Chatsworth straight into the path of a freight train because he was texting train buffs?
If what seems to be inevitable happens, there are going to be some pretty angry people in this country. Maybe that anger will accomplish what an election cannot? I hope it doesn't overturn the whole train.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The President and Race

The upcoming election has me amazed. I sat through both conventions, for the most part, and honestly, though I was listening for it, I didn't hear anything of substance at all in the Republican convention. Yet the Republicans, particularly Palin, are becoming more and more popular, even though there has been much news about all the things in Palin's background that contradict her assertions--the Bridge to Nowhere stuff, information about how Palin, as mayor of a small Alaska town, made rape victims pay for their own rape kids... no one seems to hear it or to care.
I cannot help but think, as a former denizen of a largely black city that was so polarized white people couldn't use the majority of the public transportation going through certain parts of the city, that race has something, more than just a little to do with this, given that Obama is the nominee this year for the Dems.
After my summer in the Atlanta area and the time I spent living in VA and speaking to my husband's relatives in a small time in VA, I know that race is a much bigger issue for many people than it seems to be out here in CA, where race is no big deal among most. Yet even here, if one looks at who is out in the fields, picking fruit and vegetables, who is doing the menial work, one sees that it's people of color. And it was only in the 70s that it became legal for people of mixed race to marry.
Race is definitely the proverbial elephant in the refridgerator. And we can't pretend it isn't there because its footprints are in the cheesecake. At a time when the stock market is tanking, climate change is causing enormous storms, and the whole world seems generally to be going to hell, the Republicans seem to be capable of pulling off this election, even with clearly inferior candidates, who say nothing at all.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Out to Play

Yesterday I went to see a play called The Italian Straw Hat. It was a period piece, reworked, from a French late 19th century source. Silly. The plot was so senseless, but it was funny, rather like a post silent comedy film from the 20s or 30s, full of slapstick and innuendo, and as such, enjoyable, if you didn't expect it to make much sense. The program even said that the original was judged to be so funny that a person at the premiere laughed himself to death! I guess if one has to go, that's not the worst way.
Oddly though, there are no reviews of the show around in the papers. I thought it merited more than that. The singing was good, the jokes, while very silly, were cute, and the actors' timing was excellent. One can't ask more than that for a piece like this. And certainly there's a place for such entertainment. I think if people knew about it, they would probably go to see it.
As always with a period piece, there are insights into another time. This one was based on the whole idea that it was considered indecent not so long ago to go outside without a hat. I even remember this sort of attitude from my early childhood. One could not go downtown without gloves and a hat. It was sort of like being naked, showing one's bad breeding. My mother would insist on a clean tablecloth and cloth napkins when we stopped for lunch or tea downtown. Now you're lucky if you get a styrofoam box and some paper napkins on a table that hasn't seen a sponge in some time! And hats of course revealed all sorts of things about their wearers-- their profession, social class, aspirations, etc. I used to like trying on hats for hours in Wanamakers department store, pretending to be every sort of person imaginable, though I seldom bought one. Now I never wear hats, except if I'm somewhere cold. Does that signify a social equalization or just the unwillingness to give away one's class by outward appearance? Hard to say.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Usual Suspect

Working with people presents some conundrums. For one thing, I am drawn to each person's individual story, drawn to be involved in ways that will make doing my job more difficult.
Quite often, for instance, I have students with disabilities of various kinds in my class. Sometimes they do not want to deal with these disabilities officially, by getting help from the college disability office. They have the perverse desire to prove something to themselves and others, but cause problems and misery that way for themselves.
This semester, for example, in my tiny early morning class, I have a student I recognized as one of the above varieties as soon as he walked in the door the first time. He avoided looking me in the face and sat silent the entire time--in fact, he has been silent every time I have seen him in class, and he hasn't missed one yet.
Like a dog that turns three times before settling in for a nap, this student also has his very regular routines. He will circle the room. About 15 minutes before class starts, or even before, I see him wheeling his booksack back in forth, going down the hall and looking in the door, as though to see who is there. He will come in early, sit down, and leave again, returning only about 5-7 minutes late.
I often have students break up into groups to do exercises or discuss texts. He keeps his face averted during these times. Clearly, he cannot or will not engage in such interactions, but I am not sure what to do. In the past, I had a student with aspergers in my class, and no one, of course, told me of his problem or what I should do about it. I worked out some ways of dealing with it, and the student passed the class. In his case, the student groups worked to his advantage. I took them aside and told them to help him out, since it was summer, and there was no help for him at the disabled student's office anyway. Each student in the group helped him along with tasks like emailing his assignments to me, and discussed the assignment with him to help him out with things that were difficult for him, second nature for the rest of them. He was very bright, just tone deaf to things like motivation, emotion, etc., all essential for analysis of literary texts like that I was asking for.
This latest student, however, seems to be very different. While he clearly is listening, his eyes intent upon me and full of thought, and I know from experience that he can write clearly and directly, there are many things I ask for, including this frequent group work, typing papers, attention to email I send, and sometimes sending me assignments via email, that he cannot do. He has told me straight out he does not know how to type or to use a computer, and the DSPS (disabled students' office) tells me two other professors have urged him to go there without success. It has become clear that he is unwilling or unable to ask for assistance of any kind, even something so small as to ask for a pencil and paper to do the work others are doing in class. He will not come meet me on a day when he does not have my class; before class is too early to do anything like taking him to the DSPS office; immediately after class I have another class to teach, and he has classes all day after that. He also will not work with the students in his group.
My son, when I told him about this, as I often do, had the common sense solution: just let him fail. You care too much, he said. I hate to admit defeat, being just as perverse as any of my students. I will continue to think about this, to work out some sort of solution. Until then, maybe some of you can help.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Sept. 11

How can I help thinking back to that day in 2001 when I turned on the radio to hear an apocalyptic scenario--the two towers falling down. I thought it was a "War of the Worlds" redux, and that it could not be real, but when I turned to other stations and switched on the tv, there it was.
I know my reaction was similar to most people's because we all considered ourselves invulnerable then, who knows why? Now we know better.
And so much has happened since then, Katrina, the 2000 election, the Bush administrations, the pet food fiasco... if we ever thought were immune to dishonest elections, the consequences of our wasteful use of energy and abuse of the environment, inept and corrupt government, we found out that that wasn't so.
Yet we are all still here, and we're still struggling to understand all of this and to keep it from getting worse. I wonder if we are fated to simply watch these things happen and whether we can prevent any or all of them from going forward. Hope so.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

biological basis for happiness

It is interesting to read that there is a biological basis for happiness as well as for misery. Of course, it makes sense, and we have intuitively always know it, I suppose. Being a half-empty sort of gal, I have to start my mind off in that direction, or the flywheel of negativity won't allow me to perceive all the pleasures I really have in life, despite difficulties endemic to the circumstances.
It feels corny to "count my blessings" nightly, as the articles on this subject advise, or to turn negative thoughts inside out, but I suppose this kind of task is meant for a person as oppositional and stubborn as myself.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Passing on the Pain

There is a lot of neurological garbage in my family, including anxiety, bipolar disorder, OCD, and Tourette Syndrome, among other stuff. It is difficult to have to watch my son deal with this stuff, some of which I recognize all too clearly from myself.
Since he has gone off medications during the summer, he has been suffering the effects of anxiety very much like my own. He throws up when he is anxious, the same thing that happened to me when I was very young. But he doesn't FEEL anxious; he just feels the physical symptom.
So he doesn't make the connection between the circumstances and his symptom and just thinks he is sick.
I don't let him stay home. My mother let me stay home from school a lot when I would throw up, and she shouldn't have. She should have been helping me deal with what was provoking the anxiety at school and at home, and she didn't. How could she? She never dealt with her own anxiety or the terrible problems my father had that spurred it on.
Now I have to watch this anxiety cripple my son the way it has crippled me. Everytime he wins a prize or is praised for some talent he has, such as photography or working with disabled kids, he runs in the other direction as fast and as far as he can. There is something terribly anxiety-provoking about succeeding for him that is worse than failure. I have always been the same and it has made my life difficult and unhappy in many ways.
I am angry at myself and my stupid genes for causing my son to have to deal with this. It wasn't bad enough that I had to. But I can't get him to understand that the anxiety that so puzzles him when he sees it in me is a reflection of his own.
He was offered a job he very much wanted at the start of summer, working at the high school with the disabled kids he had worked with his whole high school career. He turned it down because he was afraid of the responsibility, afraid he would let people down or somehow harm someone.
He was unwilling to discuss it with me, but I have been there many many times, and I can tell him that it's only anxiety, not fact, that makes him feel that way. In his case, it's particularly odd since no one ever told him that he didn't have the ability to do anything at all. In fact, he is always saying he gets tired of us telling him how good he is at various things. My case was different, since my family never lost an opportunity to tell me I was incompetent and even stupid and most of my teachers concurred until I got to college.
It is painful to watch and be unable to help because he is unable to hear what I am saying or even to let me say it.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Cleaning House, After a Fashion

If I can't clean house in the world of electorial politics, I can at least attack the more limited mess in my house. Today I did that. I mopped the floor with my disinfectant Swiffer mop, cleaned out the coat closet, throwing out a ton of bags I was storing... way too many to store for our limited circumstances, took down and washed the fabric shower curtain and put up shell hooks on the curtain that look very nice, and some wash, as well as cleaning the requisite cat poo and bathtub and toilet.
I was very tired when I finished, but felt satisfied that I had made some headway. Last week I cleaned up under the bathroom sink, throwing away about 25 lbs at least of crap I have had for as long as I can remember without ever looking at it. I think it is stuff my mother sent me in care packages when Jeremy was little. I can actually store some bottles and things that I've had on the sink and floor in the bathroom in there now! Wow! Now I know what closets are for!

Election Frustration

I am getting really upset and angry with Rovian Republican tactics during this election season. Last time, 4 years ago, the swift boat campaign turned many people who might have voted for Kerry to the Republicans. They bought the blatant lies that groups affiliated with the RNC disseminated, and the Democrats uttered nary a peep except to sputter indignantly that these things were not true. That seems to be happening again.
Civility is important, but are we going to sit here and allow that to happen again? What ever happened to suing for libel? Can anyone say anything at all and be believed??? I am disgusted.
The worst thing of all is that I am not sure what to do about it.
I suppose I could use my writing skill to write an open letter to the paper, asking whether the Republicans believe so little in their candidate that they believe they have to resort to tall tales in order for him to win. I think that they owe their candidate better than that, and if , as they want us to believe, he is the honorable person they claim he is, he would step in and stop them from doing this. I know that's not happening.

Saturday, September 6, 2008


Usually I go to yoga in the morning on Saturdays and spend the day preparing classes, shopping, and bopping around, getting ready for the week. It's not exactly the traditional day of rest, but it makes me feel more relaxed about the week to come, so if that's all I can manage by way of relaxation, it's better than nothing, I suppose.
Today I waited until the afternoon to go to yoga because my dad has screwed up his electric shaver again. He manages somehow to take huge chunks out of the screen covering the blade, and his face gets all cut to pieces. So I took the thing to the repair shop, which happens to be only a few blocks from where he lives, sure that we merited some kind of free replacement, since as both of us remembered it, we got the last head for the shaver only a couple of months ago. But what do you know! It was 6 months ago! Wow! Things go fast. The receipt said so anyhow. So we had to buy another head and I told dad not to press it so hard to his face. His right hand lacks feeling because of the stroke, and that's probably why he breaks it.
We also went to the Farmer's Market, which is fun. I bought fresh sturgeon. It is probably not politically correct, but I was curious. I've never had it before. I'm going to look up some recipes and see how to fix the stuff. If I can't find any, I'll fix it with seedless Kalamata olives and the beautiful heirloom tomato (Pineapple!) I bought today. Yummy. I'll let you know how it went.

Friday, September 5, 2008

More parental stuff

After teaching yesterday, I picked up my parents at the adult day care center and took them to the doctor in Orange. We didn't wait long to get into the back room to be seen, but waited a very long time for the doc to finish with a patient before she got to us. We were early for a 2:00 appt., but weren't seen till about 2:45-3. Then we had to wait till the nurse could take my dad's blood pressure again till about 3:45. My mom started up again on her incessant anxious monologue about being the only people in the building being kept waiting and how we should just get up and leave. I cannot stand that. I was trying to stay calm, but it was just too much for me and I told her finally to shut up.
My dad's blood pressure was very high (170 0ver something) but the second time it was taken, it was great--130 over something. The only difference was that he had time to relax before they took it again. He is still having trouble with his left hand, the problem that caused us to go to the emergency room last time, thinking it was another stroke, this time on the other side. He definitely has more Tourette tics and he doesn't feel well... very tired and depressed. I will probably call the psychiatrist at Veterans and make another appt. The med change he made last time is probably not working out.
He thinks he is going to die soon, and this is possible. At 92, it is always possible. But there is no real medical reason anyone can see for it, particularly.
I feel overloaded and anxious myself. I have to stay calm to handle things.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008


I don't know why, but most of the students I've ever added to a class after it has already begun haven't stayed. I always ready lots of add slips, never more than this semester, when my classes are shrinking all the time. But the two students I added today didn't turn in their slips, and I think that again, this means they have decided not to stay. It's peculiar, since I was feeling so comfortable with the material, which is after all new to me, and the students.
But I won't second guess the students for not staying in the class. It could be for any reason, from the material, a rather off-putting and graphic science fiction story that certainly does not foster comfort in its readers, to the fact that technology was acting up and students were having trouble downloading a handout on Blackboard.
And another student who wanted to add and emailed me last week managed to slip by unnoticed when the email was not forwarded. I only checked the inbox today after half a week of reading a very small number of forwarded emails. She probably doesn't need the class anymore.
It is funny that everytime I report that problem with email, the test emails arrive perfectly, immediately after they are sent, like the noise in my car I reported to the mechanic, only to have it purr like a kitten when he started it.
I'll just have to wait till a student complains, and have that person write to tech services. Perhaps that person will have better luck than I have.

Monday, September 1, 2008


I don't know why the class I am teaching seems so much easier to teach than past composition classes I have taught. Perhaps it is the tiny size, or the fact that things are just starting and nothing of note is of yet happening. I haven't even had any assignments come in, except diagnostics. Or perhaps it is the summer of wrangling with new material in the workshop. Who knows?
But this seems to leave me with time to put together a collection of poetry. I have been writing poetry most of my life. That's a long time, almost 55 years. But a lot of it is stuff I would not want to include in a collection I am doing now.
I have always been one of those writers who does not produce a lot, revises a lot, puts things aside. Most things have not been chosen by editors to which I've sent them, though lately a few have. In the past, my sensibility was apparently not one with which editors felt particularly comfortable, though it is difficult to say why.
When I look at some of those old poems, I can tell why. There are great lines, but the poems as a whole do not seem to go anywhere. They in fact seem patched together, and perhaps were.
Some, however, I persist in thinking are worthy, and they will probably find a place in this or other collections.
Lately I've produced a few poems, and many seem to have similar shapes, if not subjects. I cannot afford to wait until I've produced enough of those to make a separate collection, despite advice by online commentators. I'd be dead first, I'm afraid. So I will look over the whole shebang as if someone else has written them, in as far as that is possible, and will make a shape. I already know some of what I will find: themes, for example, and subject matter. I prepare however to be surprised by shape and mode. (Is that possible, to prepare for surprise?) I hope I am surprised, anyhow.
Of course, I know from my spotty history of publication and the fact that people want a new collection of poetry like they want a disease that it will probably take a long time to find a home for this collection once I've put it together, but when I do publish and when I do air my stuff publically, people like it and want to see more. So I'll go with that.