Friday, November 28, 2008

Upcoming Torah Session

The Torah class I'm taking isn't till Tuesday evening, but I've been reading the Abraham story in preparation for it. That's such a complicated bit that we're going to spend two classes on it, but I noticed something for the first time this time through.
You might remember that tricky Abram/Abraham passes off his wife, Sarai/Sarah as his sister twice before fessing up to King Abimelech, and he never gets chewed out by God for anything he does, including that. But what I hadn't noticed before was that according to Abraham, Sarah is his sister--his half-sister. In that passage alone, there are several taboos that we take for granted now that were apparently no problem at all then. One was incest. (There's more incest in the story in the form of Lot's daughter's act of getting dad drunk and getting pregnant by him; if you ask me, they'd spent too much time in Sodom or Gomorrah!). The other was the mixing of meat and milk, when Abraham sacrafices a kid seethed in its mother's milk to God. This is specifically forbidden in the laws of Kashruth, but of course, Abraham isn't Jewish yet. There aren't any Jews yet.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Rain Rain Can Be a Pain

Don't get me wrong. I like rain, the wonderful summer hose smell of the ground after it has showered for a while, the dewy grass, and even the puddles, which I am just childish enough to dabble in, wetting my shoes and sometimes even my socks. But the rain in this area, when it finally does let loose, can bring some problems alien to other, wetter places.
First of all, people in this place don't know how to deal with rain. Their umbrellas have been sitting in the closet so long they get moth holes or disintegrate or break. They don't know how to drive in the rain either. Of course, it doesn't help that there is no drainage on the roads and the soil doesn't absorb very much water. Rain, even a light rain, can mean pile ups and slow downs and big big accidents sometimes too because drivers sometimes don't have enough sense to slow down.
Sometimes it floods, and that can happen really fast. I was once trying to cross the street from the shopping center across the street from my apartment. During the half an hour or so I was in the market, a flood poured into the street and made it impassable. It hadn't even been raining when I went into the store, but when I came out, there were cars floating by, a dead dog, and terrified people hanging onto poles on the islands in the middle of the street.
The only way I escaped from that disaster was by begging a ride with a gigantic SUV, which drove me across the street to my house. But just as when someone is contemplating a jump from a window sill, there were "cheerleaders" on the corner urging me to jump into the white water, where I certainly would have drowned, particularly because I can't swim, despite many years of attempted swimming lessons. Truthfully though, I haven't seen anything like that for a number of years now.
Then there are other kinds of flood, brewing in areas where there have been fires. People who live in rural areas or areas at the edge of the known world/suburb are very vulnerable to fire, and when all the trees and brush burn off, to flood and mudslides. There are any number of ways to meet your maker in this place. Poor Reb, whose family has been evacuated so many times, could tell you about this, couldn't you, Reb?
So when I am sitting quietly in my house, reading and listening to the relaxing sound of raindrops on the roof and the windows, I wonder in the back of my mind if someone will wake me up at 2AM screaming in my ear that I have to get out, that the water is rising in the living room, that the safe and the normal is not really safe at all, but the harbinger of disaster.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

New Old Problem

When I first set up a bank account for my parents, I found it was impossible because of the Patriot Act to include my mother officially in it. That is because she never drove, so didn't have a driver's license, was not born in the US, although she is a naturalized citizen, and I couldn't get the DMV to give her an ID card because she might be a terrorist. Yep. A 92 year old Jewish lady from South Africa is really a threat, isn't she?
We tend to think of the Patriot Act as being a threat to our broad Constitutional rights, but it really intrudes on the tiny minutae of our everyday lives, especially when it comes to banking and the like.
Consequently, I have a problem. I cannot bank the checks sent to her by the insurance company and other places. I don't know what to do about it. I will try calling Social Security and see if they will send me a letter declaring to the bank that I am her representative. The statement from Medicare, addressed to me for her, wasn't good enough for them, and I can't find the letter that initially stated that I am her representative. What a pain.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lunch with an old friend

Today I met with an old buddy from the MFA program to chat about what's been happening with our lives the past few years and to share writing we had been doing. I took home a fat manuscript (hers) with a promise to comment on it. It was heavy, but I trust it will be interesting, knowing her poems. I haven't seen any of her fiction. This will be the first time I look at it.
Today also a friend in yoga class with whom I trade recommendations for reading lent me her copy of The Inheritance of Loss. I'm also still reading that anthology for Bookies! It's pouring books! But winter break lies ahead, and I plan to make use of it. This year we aren't planning to go any place in particular. I can put together my syllabi for next semester and read and read and read. And write too. Oh, and I promised Marly I'd review her new novel for this very blog, and maybe Amazon too. Haven't gotten it yet though.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Go to the movies

Last night I went to see a film from India, Slumdog Millionaire. It is a sort of documentary fairy tale. Now I know that is paradoxical, but so is India. It is beautiful and wretched, poor and opulent, generous and stingy. It is large and various enough to contain every human thing and some things that are supernatural. It fascinates me. I have been impressed by the art that has come out of India, which is so alien to us and yet alludes to our literature, our film, our art in our language. Because of colonialism, India has taken in our western culture and has grown stronger while we weaken.
This film takes this very topic as its theme. It is a tale about a fated romance between two young orphans. Yes, the plot is very melodramatic and it could have been awful, but it was not. I will not tell you much more, except that the film has everything a film needs to be riveting--beautiful locales, addictive plot, excellent direction. The actors are not so much characters as mediums for the plot, but that too is okay, under the circumstances. It is a broad canvas, but the details are fascinating too. Go see it while you can.
The theater was full full full of Indian families from everywhere, their tiny infants and their elderly. Yet there was not a squeak. I don't know how the parents managed it. Probably they and their children were so hungry to hear their language spoken to see their culture on the screen that they were hypnotized, even the tiny babies.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


We got my mom some shoes. I am relatively sure that they fit and that they are comfortable. If they are not, there aren't any shoes out there that will be because they are lightweight, canvas comfort shoes, and look really spiffy. She says they feel better than any of the other shoes she has tried. I hope she continues in that opinion because I am not doing this again any time soon!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Mom's New Shrink

I took my mom to an appointment with her new psychiatrist this afternoon, quite late, and managed to get totally turned around and lost. After three efforts to find the building, I finally stumbled into the correct office ten minutes late and had to fill out forms. But we eventually spoke to the doctor, and my first impression of him on the telephone was right. He was very nice and very perceptive. Much better than the doctor she was seeing before, whom I found to be cold and uncaring. She didn't like him either, and used to complain that there was no use going to see him, that he didn't do anything. I think she was right. This doctor is actually thinking about what he can do to help her. Some people should not work with elderly people.
Afterwards I took her to a deli to have a sandwich because she is not eating anything except candy and cream cakes. I ordered an enormous hot cornbeef sandwich for her, but she didn't eat it at all, only a couple of bites. Then I had the waitress pack it up and took it home. I was upset because I knew she would eat junk instead, and she did. But I guess at her age, she has the right.
I came home drained and exhausted and just wanted to get away from her and go home. I will just jump into bed and done with it for today.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The book is sweet

Last night I went to my monthly Women's Torah class at the synagogue. I am the only person in the group with any formal training in literature. Though the leader of the group knows much more about Torah than I do, I am able to contribute many things about literary analysis, vocabulary, myth, etc. that add to the group's understanding and can take routine questions of how to understand the text as I would in my own classroom. I was concerned that I would be butting heads with the leader because of this, but it seems she is okay with it. Last night we discussed the parashah (section of the Torah) of Noach (Noah). It was Christians who first separated the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible, into chapter and verse. Before that it was separated into small portions for consumption up to three times per week. The most interesting part of the discussion (and there were many interesting things) was actually not in that section, but right before it, when the text spoke about why the divine beings who, like their Greek predecessors, mated with human women to produce a race of giants, the Nephilim, who became giant heroes. But apparently God didn't like all this misegination (sp?), and destroyed everything except Noah and his household and the famous pairs of every living creature.
One wonders first of all what the creatures had done to deserve this, but apparently they too were mixing too much for God's taste, according to commentary. The point is, no one is really sure. Some speculate that it is all about God's fear that people would begin to eat meat, since they were all still vegetarians, despite being booted out of the garden. But interestingly, in the 2nd creation, which parallels the first, point for point, it's hunky dory for humans to now eat meat, and the offering of meat that God once spurned from Cain, with disastrous consequences, he now gladly accepts. Strange.
We discussed the fact that Noah, though perhaps better than most of his time, was not such a great guy. Unlike Abraham, he said nothing when God took it into his head to destroy creation. In fact, he says nothing until he wakes up from his bender and sees that Ham has sodomized (or possibly castrated) him --that's the way the commentary says those lines would have been read at the time. And then Noah curses his grandson, a way of explaining the emnity between Israel and the Canaanites that came up only much later. And also, unfortunately, a way of justifying slavery that was much bandied about in the 19th century south.
Clearly, being created "in God's image" isn't all good. If God is this arbitrary parental figure who spurns one offering to favor another, causing feuds, is it so surprising that his creation should repeatedly behave in this same way? I brought in the Kabbalistic theory that the creation was a manifestation of God's mistake, which inadvertently brought evil into being, intertwined inextricably with creation.
Another bit of bright news--a recent poem, "Taking Tea," was accepted to Caesura! Thanks again Reb for the tip!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Eady Reads!

Sometimes a person meets someone and it is as though she has known him all her life. It was like that yesterday evening when I went to hear Cornelius Eady read his poems. I had heard him years ago in Provincetown, but since then, had only tangentally followed his work. I didn't really get the blues or jazz poems, but after hearing them read, I get them now.
Eady has a soft voice that is made up of all tones. He does not so much say his poems as croon them, reminding me in a way of the Russian style of declaiming poetry, though far less self-consciously poetic. Though I had failed to wear my hearing aids, so missed the ends of many lines, I understood, I felt, quite well.
The poems moved seamlessly from autobiography (also autobiographical prose) to dramatic pieces from the point of view of the archetypal black killer white murderers have again and again nailed as the culprit for their own crimes. The voice there is matter of fact and yet very emotional, under the surface, never shrill. There is the secret I think of political poems, if anyone cares to follow this lead.
Before the reading, I had a really nice talk with Eady. It seemed as if we had been moving in parallel writer's circles, though of course he has done so much more than I have and with earned acclaim. I hope we meet again another time. B But meanwhile, read his work! I will.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Shoes glorious shoes!

We didn't get shoes for my mom, yet again, though we can't be accused of failing to try. Yesterday I took mom to Shoe Pavilion, which is closing down. It was one of the few places that had an occasional pair of shoes in our size, so I hate to see that.
In the chaos of the closing store, which was strewn with loose shoes of every size, style, and description, we managed to find one shoe (but not its mate) that fit and suited perfectly. Unfortunately, no one had any idea where the other one was. So close! It was particularly frustrating.

Wind and Flame

It's almost Thanksgiving, but it feels like midsummer. The Santa Ana winds are blowing, drying out everything to tinder, and this seems to bring out the nut cases and pyromaniacs, who take the opportunity to create enormous, scary, and destructive fires.
In the past, fire season came only once time a year. Now, with global warming, it seems to have extended to the entire year. When fires aren't a problem, floods are, particularly in semi-rural areas.
Though the smog and particulates in the air make for beautiful sunsets, they also make it hard to breathe and to go about one's everyday life. Gridlock on the freeway took on a whole new meaning yesterday when the entire freeway system shut down in spots because it was impossible to see for the smoke. I wonder what happened to all those people sitting on the road for hours and how or if they got where they were going.
My dad isn't very familiar with this fire stuff. I guess he doesn't remember last year. Yesterday he pointed to the heavy clouds (from the fire) on the horizon by the hills and said perhaps that meant it would rain. I explained that it didn't mean that. I wish it would rain though, and not a thunderstorm!
Meanwhile, my thoughts are with everyone displaced and dispossed by the fires.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Meeting

The college has had a useful series of workshops this semester that have made the department much tighter as a group, I think. I now feel that I have gotten to know some of the part-time instructors, though some that I've grown to value as colleagues are already leaving. That's how being a part-timer is; people drift hither and yon, looking for a more permanent position. For me, the part-time life has been a permanent impermanence. I have gone through phases, sometimes in the past feeling angry and alienated, a second class citizen, sometimes feeling privileged to be part of such a wonderful department where I can spend my life discussing books and talking about writing and not having to be responsible for the nitpicky details of full-time committee work, etc. But these meetings have definitely made me feel closer to everyone in the department and they have given me insight into the workings of the department and of the school that I did not have before.
It was very interesting today to have a sort of mini-class meeting for the composition class I am teaching, in rhetoric and research. It is the first time I have taught it, and the first time in a long time I have taught that level at all. I have run into a problem with the research paper, the major assignment in the class, and I have learned that this is more or less the same set of problems many people who are teaching this class face. First of all, there are inadequate materials in the library database for my students to write their papers. And the students were struggling so much with the preliminary assignments I gave them (which were supposed to be finished weeks ago) that the research project will have to be slighted, not the least because there will be insufficient materials to do the work at our library. I have already researched several topics myself, and found this to be the case. We will have to work individually. Luckily, I have only a very few students in my classes this semester, so I can find materials for each one and pass them along, but the idea was to get them to research their topics themselves, and they will not be able to do that very well. And we will probably have to visit UCI library as a class and do some research in the next week or so. This coming week we are going to the college library, but I already know that won't be sufficient. Next semester, when I teach the class again, I hope to remedy that problem, but I am not exactly sure what the best way to do that would be. Today helped me verbalize all of this, since I was only muddling along by myself up to today in relation to these problems, and it seems that is what happens to most people who teach the class.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


I am getting to dislike holidays like Thanksgiving because they make me realize just how inadequate I am as a housekeeper. I love to cook and used to entertain quite a bit, giving a yearly Chanukah party for which I cooked for days. That was when I lived in a place half the size of our current digs. But somehow, it was far less messy than this place, where cascades of paper threaten to bury us.That was when Jeremy was little and his toys were everywhere. Now we ought to have much more room, but we don't. It may have been because of the way things were laid out, or perhaps it was the fact that that place had a huge linen closet built into the wall, while this place doesn't have one. The rooms here are narrow also, which makes it hard to squeeze the computer and the dining table into the same niche, and the kitchen is the size of a small closet.

I think I am afraid that the reason I have become far messier and less able to handle things organizationally is because I might be getting dementia like my mom. Her dementia took a really really long time to get as bad as it is. But I am too afraid to have it checked out. That is probably foolish; perhaps something could be done about it. But perhaps it couldn't. I wouldn't want to know if it couldn't.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today was a holiday. The college was closed for Veterans Day, as was the University, so both Richard and I were off. We decided to go down to Corona Del Mar to the Beachcomber for breakfast (a really big, really good breakfast!) and a long walk on the beach. I had the egg-white frittata, sans cheese because I hate the stuff. It was delicious. In case you can't imagine what an egg white frittata might be like (a white omelet), it was a thick white circle the size of a cake plate, loaded with sauteed spinach, mushrooms, onion, and tomatoes. On the side were crisp breakfast potatoes, which I love, and a single ripe strawberry. Richard had the eggs and hash, so I got a little corned beef hash on the side from his plate. He didn't want any of mine, unrepentant whole egg eater that he is.
Then we walked maybe three miles or so down the beach, where we ran into some like-minded walkers and chatted briefly. On the way home, we climbed nearly up to the top of Turtle Rock. I was a bit nervous about running into a mountain lion, since the sign warned they did appear there every once in a while, but we didn't see any. Good thing. I was pretty winded and couldn't have run much.

Monday, November 10, 2008


I'm trying to write a story and I am really stuck. I decided that this character was going to commit a crime, though I am not sure whether he is going to outright kill his family or just find an ingenious way to get them off his back that doesn't involve killing them. Either would work. I keep adding information and detail up to the point where I have to make up my mind, but I just can't make myself go any further. I know how it will end though.
This has never happened to me before because my poems are usually so small that they don't generally have twists and turns. They go straight where they are going, or else they "tell it slant," like Dickinson said, and they don't commit to a definite direction, but leave several sort of floating out there. This is a new experience for me. One day I will just have to make a decision. I can always erase that day's work, or save it for something else. That's the good thing about writing that we don't get with life.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Movie and dinner

Yesterday afternoon I took some time off to go see Eastwood's new film, The Changeling. I am particularly sensitive to movies about serial murder. After I saw Psycho at age 11, I wouldn't take a shower unless everyone was home for about 10 years thereafter (a problem when I went off to school). But I have been impressed by Eastwood's previous films (at least the relatively recent ones), so I went to see it with Richard. He was not particularly eager to go, but once he did, I think he became involved in the drama.
If you haven't heard about it, the film is based on a bizarre true story from the 20s LA, when the police force was a bunch of thugs and gangsters, committing women who bucked the system to mental hospitals and bumping off everyone else who got in their way. I won't spoil it for you, but will only say that the film features the world's creepiest serial killer of children and, believe it or not, a very good performance by Angelina Jolie.
Then we went to eat Indian vegetarian food at the Dosa Place. It was excellent but very spicy. Richard needed to bury his tongue in frozen yogurt after dinner to get over the burn.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Mom and the Two of Me

My mother thinks I am two different people. Sometimes, like today, when I took her for blood tests, she tells me confidentially that Robbi is not like me. She is harsh and mean, and refuses to buy shoes when they are needed. I, on the other hand, take my mother out for cream cakes and look after her health. No wonder, my mother says, shaking her tousled head (she won't allow the hairdresser to touch it, claiming that the hairdresser knows nothing about cutting hair), poor Robbi lives alone, while her husband and son live just down the road, refusing to allow her to occupy the same apartment. My mother thinks that it is fortunate that I show up sometimes, or she would be in trouble.
It is hard to remember sometimes that she is not herself either. I can't carry on a conversation with her, since she will ask how the honeymoon or the cruise or the trip to the another planet was, and did I bring pictures? What does one say to that, especially when she doesn't hear the answers I make anyhow. I just shake my head, and try to straighten out the mess in her closet, or peel off the top two outfits she is wearing so that only one remains, or encourage her again to try on the shoes in the closet that she has never worn or worn only once that fit her instead of wearing the too-big ones that fall off her feet and cause her to trip on the carpets.
Sometimes I do wish there were two of me. Things would be a lot easier, and wouldn't it be great to have someone to blame when things don't turn out as I would like? No such luck.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


The long election is finally over, and for the first time in quite a while, there is a result I feel very happy about, mostly. Of course, Proposition 8 passed, and I am not pleased about that. For those of you who are out of state, 8 is the anti-gay marriage amendment. I feel about this as I do about all directives forbidding anomalies: difference is healthy and normal. Forcing people to adhere to one's own idea of normality, except in cases where carrying out these practices harms or victimizes others, is a bad idea. So I regret very deeply this law, though I feel the issue is far from settled.
As far as the top of the ticket is concerned, I, along with many many others, was thrilled and could not believe what I was seeing. As the numbers rolled in, it was clear that I had not been alone during these 8 years of exile. Others obviously felt just as strongly about Bush's abuse of the office of the Presidency as I. Now we will see what a whole new perspective on these issues can do for us.
I feel hopeful that Obama, being as smart and shrewd as he is, will gather excellent advisors around him, and has available to him the brightest and most enthusiastic people in the world. He will also have the support of other nations, who were cheering him on from the sidelines during the election. This will go a long way toward helping him to make crucial decisions in the coming years.
I am interested to see who his cabinet will be and how exactly he changes things. It will give me a good reason to read the paper and listening to the news, something I gave up doing for a long time after 9-11 and during the interminable and awful Bush years.
Though I have thought of the US as being full of pinheads and bigots, there must be a lot of people out there who do not meet this description, to have elected the first African-American president. I hope that his model changes the dynamic for black and other Americans of color.
To borrow a phrase, this makes me feel proud of America for the first time in a long while.

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Storied Past and Present

Now that I have gotten a start writing stories rather than sticking strictly to poems, I am presented with new problems to solve. The main one I'm dealing with now is plot. So many odd and interesting things have happened to me that it is tempting to stick to autobiography. But there are some people I have run into and up against that interest me, beyond my involvement with them. They make me curious about very odd and different psyches than my own, and they deserve their own stories, beyond my own life. So I am trying to create them, and I am not really sure how to go about it at this point.
I have always had plenty of imagination. That's not the problem. It's just that I get stuck with life, somehow, and am reluctant to bypass it, to take tiny details, as Henry James describes in his prefaces, and set them in entirely new contexts.
I am sure it is only a matter of time before I use someone's words, life, or physiognomy and that person recognizes it in a story. That doesn't happen in poems because poems don't generally work that way, at least not mine. So now I have to ponder this, or risk being like the person I met years ago in Provincetown who spent all day with her ear (and a stethoscope) to the floor, listening to others' conversations, and putting them, verbatim often, into stories that appeared in weeks to come in the New Yorker. Oh well. I guess I'll write my way out of this problem.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Playing it

I saw another play today at SCR. It was The Heiress, loosely based, the program said, on James' Washington Square, one of his novels that I have never read. I saw the marks of Henry James on the female lead, however loosely it was based on the novel. Apparently, it hews much more closely to the film, made in the byegone days, with Montgomery Clift (sp?) and Olivia de Havilland in the starring roles. I managed to miss that too, somehow.
It was a pretty rip-snorting drama, with interesting plot turns, and the audience was very involved in it, got very worked up. That is somewhat unusual, in my experience, at SCR, where audiences can be very cool, even blase, and sometimes have no idea what they will be seeing. For example, I met a woman a couple of years back when I went to see Hamlet (a very good production, by the way) who claimed to have no idea at all what it was or who Shakespeare was. Thing is, I believe she was telling the truth. She was American. It would be more understandable if she had been Turkish or Nigerian, but she was apparently brought up here, and has not been buried head first in a hole out in a cornfield for her whole life. I don't know how I come to be lucky enough to run into these unbelievable people. Maybe everyone does, and they are just not paying attention. I am.
Today I saw another bizarre thing: I was in South Coast Plaza before the play for the first time in years, and I went to the bathroom in the basement of Sears. There, in the middle of the children's department and right near hardware, there was a fully dressed bride with her bridal party. I have no idea what they were doing there. I didn't get a chance to ask.