Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mom the Story Teller

My mom has always told stories, but they are not the kind one would find interesting. Years before her dementia became obvious, she was very strange, and she would talk constantly. Oddly, since becoming demented, she barely talks at all most of the time. But then, she would talk constantly, repeating the same old stories of family members and past experiences over and over and over. You would leave the room, and when you came back, the tape was looping again: she would be telling the story and would be at precisely the same spot she was in when you left.
It could drive anyone batty.
But now, she is beginning to combine elements of the stories in new ways, and they are becoming interesting in almost a literary sort of way. For example, for the past year she has kept returning to a period of her life when she was in the airforce in South Africa, and she and her sister went to a town a day away and stayed with some other girls in a hotel room for a month or so for a training course in photography. She is always spurred by the look of the hills, saying they remind her of a place in South Africa, Haut Bay, and that reminds her of this experience, although it was not in Haut Bay. The chain of association is always the same.
But now, she says that the board and care house she lives in now is the place where she and the other girls stayed that time for training. She remembers it all so clearly, and reworks the details of the story accordingly.

Thursday, January 29, 2009


Tonight the poetry workshop I am teaching met again. It is such a different group from the summer's, which was far more homogeneous. This group, while small, is quite various. There are several very quiet people, who as yet have said almost nothing, but they are clearly listening intently, and thinking. When they do speak, they utter something helpful and to the point.
I am thinking what to do next. We have been working on images, discussing Williams "The Red Wheelbarrow" and Pound's "In a Station of the Metro," and creating poems composed of catalogues of images, on the pattern of Plath's "Metaphors" or Ondatchee's "Sweet Like a Crow." Some people really broke through with wonderful, unexpected images there. I had the same experience with that assignment last summer.
I want to follow up with something to do with diction, but I will have to think about what that should be.
It is hard for me not to be too blunt. I want to move people's work along, but without alienating or upsetting them too much. Of course, I remember my first workshop, and how upset and sometimes angry I got, but the anger always made me determined, I think, and made my work improve. If I can just provide a path for this improvement for the students to follow, as I have learned to do in comp classes, that will help. The problem is that poetry is less formulaic. Every person has to find her own way of getting there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Love what you do

Tonight I went to hear Ray Bradbury speak at IVC. The man is my father's age, 92 or so, and cannot hear or see very well, it seems. But let me tell you--the man can talk. He is as full of energy and enthusiasm as anyone of any age I have ever seen.
Though I came in late, thinking somehow that the talk would start later (didn't actually look at the tickets or I would have known better), I got the drift. He told the whole story of his writing life, how things seemed to fall into his lap, but actually were spurred by his "loves," as he put it, his enthusiasm for writers, film makers, etc., to whom he reached out in one way or another or who, somehow feeling the affinity from afar, reached out to him and became mentors and life-long friends.
It was an inspiring life he related, in which he claimed to remember everything, including being in the womb, being nursed (for 5 days, he said, and he remembered the taste!), and being circumcised. That's a good one.
He told how he managed to write a screenplay about Moby Dick for John Huston although he could never before manage to get through the book via Melville's channeling of Shakespeare in that book. And he in turn came to channel Melville in writing the screenplay for the film.
It was a totally emotional, anti-intellectual approach to writing and to life, but it worked for him, and perhaps it is in some ways the happiest way to live. It is, sadly, not one that is natural to me, who never was able to live a moment without thinking it through and dissecting it.
I am glad I went, as he wrote his own work, "as a lark," although I was tired and might have been tempted to stay home and vegetate in front of the tube or just go to bed early. I saw some of my students there, and I will council them to take to heart as writers and as human beings what the man said, even if it undermines my own words in class: "Do what you love," he said, "And don't listen to anyone who tells you not to." What could be wrong in that?

Another Torah Session--Rebekkah and the twins

We had a very interesting discussion about this parashah, which has a lot of juicy bits. First, I brought up Rebekkah's seeming-identity problem while she was carrying the quarrelsome twins, Jacob and Esau. The commentators saw it as her usual sharp wits working an angle, trying to find out her role in the family drama that was about to unfold, and which she precipitated.
Rebekkah is one of very few women to whom God speaks directly in the Torah. The first was Hagar, the outsider. But I wondered whether it isn't the usual question pregnant women ask themselves, whether they are more than, as Plath put it, "a means." There is nothing in the text to indicate that; it is its usual tacit self, with more lacunae than anything else.
Then we discussed Isaac, who is a nonentity who repeats many of his father's actions and takes none of his own, really. Unlike his father, who fights 7 kings over water wells, Isaac simply moves on when challenged. Some people speculated that he was so traumatized by the binding that he could never take action for himself. But he didn't take action for himself even then, and since was supposed to be at least 30, by the text's chronology, that's kind of odd unless that's just the sort of person he always was.
But commentators believe that Isaac, though no one's idea of a sharp fellow, knows that Jacob is not his favorite son, Esau, but goes along with it. All those folk-tale questions asking Jacob about his identity seem a bit too pointed to be true.
I noted the pattern of the physical man/farmer/hunter and gatherer vs the schemer, familiar from Cain and Abel. Jacob also harks back to his grandfather, Abraham, in his craftiness. There is one member of the group who is very disturbed by this, and by the fact that the text seems to approve it. Of course, overturning the custom of primogeniture (another pattern in the text) is a sign of Judaism's desire to benefit the underdog and to place itself, an embattled nation, in the direct line of destiny, where no one would expect it to be.
As in the start of Genesis, where there were two creations, there are two thefts of Esau's inheritance in this book. The first is even odder than the second because there Esau outright gives it away for a pot of lentils as red as he is. Why then is he so surprised when he loses the rest of his blessing from Isaac?
The characters in Genesis are so well drawn despite the scant detail--perhaps because of it. We can all imagine them, scheming and disfunctional, on some modern-day talk show.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Another appointment

Today I took my dad to VA for two appointments--one with the psychiatrist and the other with the Physician's Asst. He hadn't been there since all of this bad stuff with his health started, though there were some impending signs of it at Christmastime when the PA noted his swollen legs and worried about CHF (congestive heart failure). She told me to take him to the ER if his legs became more swollen, and I didn.
The psychiatrist noted that he had gone down hill quite a bit, but he spoke to dad respectfully about the Great Depression and about his limitations since this last bout at the hospital. Dad said for the first time that he is angry he can no longer care for his plants, but I explained why the caretakers had to impose that rule on him, and he understood, though of course, he was not happy about it. We tossed around some ways he might be able to continue gardening without the major expenditure of energy that he had been doing, when he went outside with his cane instead of his walker and fell down a couple of times a day. It was clear he was not coping with the tasks gardening required, and the caregivers were concerned about it. The psychiatrist suggested bonsai, I suggested dish gardens, but he was not interested. He wants his fruit trees and roses.
Then we went to see the PA, who put all the changes in his medications into the computer, and put in orders for a new cane to use around the house and a new walker that he will pick up next week when the caregiver takes him to LB VA Hospital to pick up his new hearing aids. Then, he said, he will consider going back to the Center at least once a week.
He does look more rested, despite the frustration and the fact that his pants, dragged down by the urine tube, are falling down. He refuses to wear a belt and I don't know what size pants he ought to wear since he lost all that water weight.
Afterwards we went to a kosher deli where we hadn't been before and had matzo ball soup and half a turkey pastrami sandwich on rye. Wonderful! The bread was freshly baked, still warm, firm, but with a decent crust and just enough give when you squeezed the half a sandwich between the fingers! The pastrami was thinly sliced and not overly spiced, as pastrami generallly tends to be. It was delicate pink, like the inside of a conch shell. When my uncle comes in this Friday we'll go back there and eat again, taking my mom next time.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Other Shoe

Jeremy was up puking all night long, and is still doing it, having trouble keeping anything at all down. Around 2 this morning, I awoke to all the lights on in the house and the sound of someone retching. I thought Richard had a relapse because of the buffalo spaghetti sauce I made last night. It was actually very good, rich and dense, with nice imported pasta of a complex twisted shape. But Richard was just barely recovered from his flu, so I wouldn't have been surprised. It wasn't him though; it was Jeremy, and he had not made it to the bathroom. He got sick partly in the cat litter box. That was relatively easy to clean up. The carpet was not so easy though. Richard and Iwere up for hours with paper towels and regular ones, doing laundry and taking out trash.
I was going to visit a friend at the rehab where he is staying since he injured his spine skiing and is partially paralyzed, but he doesn't need the flu also, so I'm not going this weekend. I hope I do not catch this.
We went to see Frost/Nixon. The odd thing is that I have never seen those interviews, though of course I know what transpired in them. What struck me was not that historical situation but how it spoke to the one of Bush and Cheney, whose actions were far more serious than anything Nixon thought about doing. No one is going to try to interview Bush though. He is about as self-aware as a snail, so there would not be any revelations, I am sure. He still can't see what all the fuss is about. Bush makes Nixon look like a saint, and I never thought I would entertain that idea about Nixon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Out in the Garden Eating Worms

I woke up this morning to learn that my workshop was down to 11 people, and at least a couple of those weren't in class on Thurs. . Two people told me they were dropping--one because she couldn't make head or tails out of the poems in the workshop section of the class, but felt she was the only person who couldn't, and the other because she realized that writing poetry was much more complex than she had realized, and she didn't have the time to invest in it right now. I think that is probably true, given she was about to enter a PhD program. Legitimate reasons, both of them, but I felt bad. I thought I'd pick up some of those fat juicy wrigglers that have swum up out of the grass in the rain the past couple of days, since I'm feeling insecure and doubting myself. But I will try not to take it personally.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Last Night's Workshop

The poetry workshop is going well. There too I have a room full of willing participants. Many simply wanted to experiment with poetry, having no real idea how to approach or write it. That is brave of them. They are beginning to discover it is much more complex than they imagined, but I think most are up for the challenge. A few other students are experienced writers, and it is wonderful to have their wisdom and acute comments.
We spend a good half of the class reading published work and discussing it, then take on an exercise related to the theme or technique of the poems we were discussing. Last night it was childhood experiences plus sensory images/description and also we discussed the judicious use of rhyme and internal echoes. We had a lively discussion of Roethke's "My Papa's Waltz" and Bishop's poem "The Waiting Room, " among others.
I introduced the class to Reb's literary blog, "The Mark on the Wall," and they will be attending readings. We may go to some together, as a class, or at least some of the students may choose to go as a group, I am hoping.
Then we had our first workshop discussion. There were 4 poems I believe. We got so wrapped up in discussing them we almost ran over, though generally I start to fade by 9 or so since I am such an early riser. I think it was a useful discussion.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Classes this semester

My students this semester so far seem interested and excited. It is not difficult to get discussions started, and people seem prepared to move forward with the work for the semester. That makes me happy. What if they continue this cooperative? It would make my day, every day! But it's early yet. I hope my skepticism is unwarranted. Spring can often be more rather than less difficult than fall as far as students' willingness and preparation go.
Perhaps this is an extension of the good will I've seen out there in the world now that we're into changing the bad old policies of the Bush regime. Let's hope that good will continues, both in and outside of the classroom.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Richard has the flu, as I think I said. He has been lying in bed groaning, walking around half awake, puking up everything that he tries to eat and drink. And I am getting afraid that he is going to get dehydrated. I want to take him to the emergency room, even though I know very well what that means--hours of sitting in a waiting room, probably to be told there is nothing they can do and to go home and wait it out. He won't let me help or feel useful. I hope he gets better soon. I bought him stuff for the BRAT diet, but so far he hasn't eaten anything. He also asked for some yogurt with active cutlure, and I bought him a flavor of the stuff that sounded good to me--blackberry pomegranite. I hope he gets to eat some tomorrow and can keep it down. SOmeone ate bacon earlier today because I found the frying pan full of congealed grease. I hope it wasn't him, but I suspect it was.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Be the Change

This morning at work in the Writing Center the big screens were up, as were the small ones, streaming live from the Inauguration in Washington DC. As the event unfolded, sound and picture stalled a few times, but the mutual feeling in all of us as we stood around, in awe that this day had arrived in our lifetimes, was warm feelings and a sense of unreality.
First of all, although we all know that life goes on (in a different time zone) thousands of miles away and indeed across the universe, it is odd when technology brings that home to you with footage streaming live from far away. And when the occasion is momentous, as this is, it feels even odder.
Everything I saw came off perfectly, despite any technological hitches or glitches we may have experienced. From Michelle Obama handing Laura Bush the gift of a blank journal and pen to write her memoirs to the moving speech of a black minister whose name I did not catch who recited rather than singing the black national anthem before proceeding with the speech, everything was just as I would have had it. Obama's speech was terrific. He said just what needed to be said. Now it stands to us to be the change, as they say, every day.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Day at the Zoo

Today we went to the San Diego Zoo, and it was as perfect a day as it could have been. The weather was glorious, just warm enough to be pleasant the whole day, cool enough to prevent misery that one usually feels in summer at the zoo as the day wears on.
It was also an education day for Koalas and other Australian animals, and we learned a lot. There was a terrific didgeredoo player from La Jolla who played a wonderful concert on instruments he created himself. There was even a huge long one made out of a century plant that played whale music, or what sounded like the song of a humpback whale, eerily enough to commemorate a whale that washed up on that very beach the day after the plant bloomed. The plant blooms only once a century, then dies. That's when Australians hollow out the plants and make instruments. Then they leave those instruments out there to weather naturally and go back to the earth. He carved another with his spirit animal, the dragon, and it was as gorgeous as an ancient Chinese carving and sounded glorious, as one would imagine a dragon would sound.
The gorillas got enrichment, produce pieces in burlap sacks, and all of them were appropriated by the silverback male, who allowed the females to watch him without ever offering even one sliver of melon or apple to them! One finally snuck up and stole a sack, which had a piece of melon in it. The male didn't pursue her or even seem to care at all. In fact, the females seemed very phlegmatic or perhaps stoic, staring off into space with a long-suffering look in their eyes. It was a glorious day, and I hope tomorrow will be great too, for those in Washington especially.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A New World, Maybe?

With all that has been going on with my dad, I had completely lost sight of the wonderful mood the country is in, with Obama coming into office and Dubya leaving it. The day we have waited for is almost here.
The MLK Scholarship benefit, which took place at University Synagogue but was hosted by the AME church of Irvine, which does not have its own building (a situation our synagogue once shared), took me out of my funk and into that mood. It made me feel that the harmony I had hoped for when I was growing up in Philadelphia had a chance right here and now. Of course, Irvine is not Philadelphia. It will take some doing to arrive there. Philadelphia is such a hostile, angry, dirty, and ugly place, for the most part. The roots of that anger and hatred are deep and well-watered. But here, at least, love was the order of the day.
It felt odd to be a guest in my own synagogue, but then again, the Church allotted a room for the choir to prepare and practice; our own synagogue forgot to do that at High Holiday time. The truth is, there just wasn't any place for us to be, although we are such an important part of those services. And they put out such a wonderful, carefully chosen meal for us, including lox and other treats.
The performances at the concert were amazing, especially the Step Dancing. I had never seen or even heard of Step Dancing before today. The sound system at the synagogue is appalling, which is too bad because no one could hear the words of any of the songs, but this didn't stop the Step Dancing and the AME choir's performance from being amazingly wonderful. It was hard to follow them, as comparatively reserved and quiet as our group is.
Everyone was up and clapping, dancing, enjoying the music. Step dancing, as far as I could make out with the bum sound system, is a product of black sororities and fraternities. Like drumline, it is a synchronized combination of sound and movement. With just their mouths and their bodies, the performers managed to create intricate patterns. It's too bad I couldn't understand what they were saying too, despite my hearing aids.
I looked in vain for the ladies' big hats that I had expected. I guess in California they are not the thing. Instead, there were lots of African robes and headresses, beautiful ones. And wonderful ornate hair styles. They must have taken days to do, some of them.
At the end of the concert, we all joined hands and sang "We Shall Overcome." And I think perhaps we may just have done it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Something Completely Different?

I haven't gone to visit my parents since Idropped dad off from the hospital on Thursday evening. His phone is turned off because he cannot walk far enough to pick it up; he will probably need a wheelchair, something he swore he never wanted to have to get, and he cannot focus or remember enough to recall what he did that morning. It is hard to have a conversation with him.
I don't think he has any physical therapy or occupational therapy left on his Medicare plan even though he needs it.
I feel pretty rugged still myself, though the yoga class I had this morning was helpful. It was a real killer. My groins hurt so much I almost couldn't walk down the stairs, but for one thing, it took my mind over my worries!
Tomorrow we are thinking of going to San Diego to the Zoo. It is taking a chance because there's always a possibility dad will need to go to the hospital again. He's had to go twice in the past three weeks, and was there for at least 5 days each time. But I am going to take that chance. I need to relax, and I love the zoo; it is the one place that always recharges me.
Tomorrow afternoon, the choir sings in that AME MLK scholarship concert--just one synagogue out of all those in OC, and a bunch of churches. We're singing quite a few songs too (6).
I'll fill you in on how it goes.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Whether you want to think of me as toast after the difficult day I had yesterday or a pot boiling over, I was certainly stretched to my limit. Despite the schedule, I was forced to pick up my dad at the hospital yesterday after my comp class ended, at 1. Luckily, virtually no one wanted to discuss papers or placement in the class with me. That's mainly because the people I recommended for ESL (and that the ESL instructor also recommended) refused to drop the class. Unfortunately, they had passed Wr. 201 and 1 at the college, but I have no idea how.
So I went on home, where I ran into Jeremy, who told me to go pick up my dad. I had asked him to do it, but he refused, fearing the responsibility. It is quite a difficult task, and at his age, I'm not sure he was up to it psychologically. I'm not even sure I was.
You would think that since the hospital had been calling since 11 telling me to pick him up, they'd be ready to see him on his way, but it took till 3:30 for them to take out tubes, bring me papers to sign, round up doctors, etc.
Dad wasn't much better than the previous day. He kept falling asleep, and was clearly still hallucinating, particularly since he claimed that he had not been fed for two days when the charts clearly showed that he had picked up the phone and ordered his own meals and eaten them with gusto.
I am not sure whether this is a sign that he does have vascular dementia (it seems so) or that he is again on the wrong balance of medications (that has happened in the past).
So loaded up with follow up appointments and prescriptions to fill, I set on my way, with no food at all in my stomach all day, and a class to teach at 7. There was of course rush hour traffic also.
At 4:30 I stopped at Target to fill his antibiotic prescription. Luckily, they rushed it, and I was able to get home by 6. That gave me about 10 minutes to shove something small in my mouth and out the door. Once I was on campus, parking was virtually unavailable.
But the class went quite well I thought, despite my being rattled for a while. The room was full of people shopping around, and I gave APC codes to at least 4 of them, possibly more. Not everyone on the roster showed up, or at least I didn't get them when I called roll. There was quite a bit of lateness, so I'm not sure I caught everyone.
It is a very interesting group, of varied backgrounds and ages. They seem to have something to say. I look forward to the rest of the semester!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Daily Kvetch

I have been calling my dad many times a day, but not getting any answer. I haven't heard from the doctor, just from that nurse yesterday who wanted to send him home to a nursing home temporarily, but then called to say the doctor changed her mind and was testing him further. None of this made me very comfortable, so I took mom to visit him today.
It was a hot hot day, drying out my already cracked skin, and making it crawl just a little. I had dressed my mom in her new clothes, a beautiful pastel short sleeved sweater in blues, aquas, and white, with small beads, and a pair of nubbly blue pants. She looked great, and didn't fight me when I suggested the clothes she had been wearing were all wrong for the warm weather. When we got there, we found dad had a room in the new tower at the hospital. It was a little cubicle of a room, but private, a big improvement over the emergency room where he had been left for nearly two days.
He was asleep when we arrived, and we couldn't wake him. He was breathing, but I got scared and ran to the nurse's desk. It took a little while to raise some attention, though someone finally came. I told them he wasn't usually this way, and that I wanted to speak to his doctor. The nurse managed to rouse him, but he was hardly himself. His eyes were glazed and vacant, and he looked at me and saw someone else. He asked, "Are you here to give me my medicine?" and opened his mouth like a baby bird. Then he fell back to sleep.
My mother was losing patience with the whole affair. She was strangely disengaged, like a squirmy five year old who doesn't understand what is going on. She wanted to go home almost as soon as she got there.
I never did get to speak to the attending physician, but another doctor, who had never seen him before, came and talked to me briefly and got dad out of bed. Shockingly, she told me that they had been thinking about releasing him today, in this state. They had taken him off the IV medications, and put him on oral medication. She wondered whether by limiting his fluids (in this weather!) they had made him dehydrated and that explained his hallucinations and sleepiness, but didn't want to call in a neurologist or any other specialist to investigate further. She thought he might be sent home tomorrow, when I will not be around to take him home since I'll be in class from 8:30-1:00 (possibly longer since students will probably want to discuss their sample writing with me) and then from 7-10 PM. I am very disturbed. Though I know we are all mortal and that there is little we can do about it ultimately, I find the hospital's treatment of my father this time cold. If they think there's nothing they can do, they ought to just tell me to put him in hospice. To treat him half-heartedly is really unacceptable, or at least I find it so.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

First class, dad, etc.

I met with my first class this semester, a rhetoric course. There are two students I know from other classes, but the rest are new to me, except for one whose name, but not face, is strangely familiar. Perhaps his reputation precedes him, and probably not in a good way. We'll have to see.
So far, many of them are wildly unprepared for the class, judging by their response on the diagnostic essay. It does not bode well. Of course, some people don't respond well to such writing tasks, and they may be more prepared than they seem. I hope so.
The other class, the poetry workshop, meets Thursday night. Only one of the students from my summer class is in it. But 12 others, besides the one from summer (who is also in my comp class) are signed up. I have high hopes that it will be a terrific semester, and as much fun as the summer class was.
Meanwhile, back at the hospital, my dad is hooked up to an IV drip of antibiotics, which seems to be doing the trick for the infection. They'd like to send him home, but the board and care won't accept him till he comes off the IV. That makes me nervous. I don't ever want him to have to transfer to a nursing home permanently. I think it would kill him, though 4 days (the estimated time to finish the antibiotics) wouldn't be too bad. So the hospital will keep him till the antibiotic finishes up.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The People Vs Abraham

Today I attended, along with 699 other people in the community, our synagogue's event of the year. It was Judge Wapner, from People's Court, who is almost as old as Abraham, it seems. I feared for a moment there that the event would be siderailed as another, earlier occasion was, on the appearance of a senile Milton Berle . Uncle Milty was clearly pretty far gone into dementia. He thought he was performing in front of an adult audience in the Borsht Belt, and so his material was quite blue. Actually, it was a charity concert for children. I'll never forget my son's response to him. Jeremy, then about 10, heckled Berle, and was enthusiastically cheered for it. Though I wanted to sink into the floor, it was pretty funny.
On this occasion, the judge didn't actually have too big a part, and I think he was not actually senile, just very old and tired.
The two lawyers were Erwin Chemerinsky, as defense, and Jonathan Shapiro, prosecutor. They focused on the binding of Isaac, the story that Abraham heeded God's request to sacrifice his son Isaac on top of Mount Moriah. It's a pretty disturbing text, particularly since Isaac, who is of an indeterminate age, but probably an adult, asks his father, as they trudge up the mountain path, laden with wood and fire-making materials, where the sheep they are going to sacrifice might be. Despite the ominous reply, Isaac, never the sharpest tool, continues up the path.
Traditionally, the Rabbis have read this as proof of the soundness of Abraham's faith and his character, but modern Jews have much more trouble with this event, and want to read it as a sign of just the opposite: Abraham has done other dubious things, including the intended sacrifice of Ishmael and his mother, prompted by his wife's request, not by God's.
I personally have seen it as God testing Abraham, but not the way the rabbis originally think. He is testing to see if Abraham has understood his moral failings in the past--after all, Abraham twice palmed off his wife as his sister in order to save his own life, and once before threw out Hagar and his first son, Ishmael, into the desert to die. This is why, I think, God stresses that Isaac is Abraham's "only son," something that is patently untrue.
But on to the trial. The judge explained to us that the criteria for judgment would be contemporary California law, and that in order to find Abraham guilty of attempted murder, we must find him guilty of malice, the intention to commit bodily harm, and premeditation.
The prosecutor went first, and he had the easier task. He showed the action and plan Abraham had, getting up early, packing up his son and the murder weapon (which, Shapiro pointed out, was not a knife at all, but a cleaver). He lied to his son, and tried to cover up the truth about the impending act of violence, and tied his son up to subdue him.
Then Chemerinsky made a more complex and subtle argument for Abraham's innocence. He said that Abraham never intended to kill Isaac, because he knew that God had sworn that Isaac would be the future of Abraham's line, so he wanted to see whether in fact God was worthy of his worship, or whether he was not a truly compassionate God at all. In all this time, Chemerinsky argued, he never intended to kill Isaac when it came to crunch.
In this scenario, which actually recreates a Chasidic reading of the text, Abraham is a trickster, kind of like Odysseus, a story-teller and manipulator of facts, who gains all he has by his wits.
I can see this reading, and think it is apt.
Finally, I voted for not guilty, not because I find Abraham's actions praiseworthy (I don't), but because they are moral failings, not legal ones.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Great Recession

Today I went to the Laguna Hills Mall to case the joint. I need to buy a present for my mother in law, but when I saw the situation there, I forgot all about that. It was mostly empty... unusual for a Saturday afternoon, especially one when there were lots of big, drastic sales. Both Macys, which has closed a number of stores across the country, and the other anchor store, JC Penneys, had 70% off sales on lots of merchandise. Yesterday I took my mother to the latter and bought her 4 pair of very nice pants. Today I went back by myself and bought her tops to go with them. There weren't many in the correct size, and it's hard to tell what the size really is, now that the meds she is taking make her hungry and she nibbles and noshes all day long.
One store for teenagers that usually sells stylish skater shirts (Hurley and Billibong, etc) for $20. each was selling some styles for $6.99 each. I bought two for Jeremy and also a sweatshirt. Instead of $50. or up, it was $19.99. Since he won't wear jackets, and often wears shorts even on cold days, he needs sweatshirts to stash at work and in the car, etc. I got one of these too.
There were so many extremely cheap things at the mall that it was shocking, even to me, who am, if I say it myself, a skilled bargain hunter. I didn't have unlimited funds to spend, so I didn't buy anything else.
On the way home, I listened to reports about record numbers of unemployed people, and Obama's warnings about the severity of the pinch we are about to feel, which will worsen before we emerge from it. It was rather like listening to reports of 9/11, as it was happening. I was feeling the same feeling as I had then that this must be a mistake, a dream, a joke. A flashback to much earlier times, of my father's youth.

Friday, January 9, 2009


This morning I was so overwhelmed by the prospect of taking my dad back to the doctor today and not getting a chance either to go to yoga or to get any work done for next week that Richard took over the task. I finished my planning for next week and took mom to the sale at JC Penney's to get pants, which was very difficult. She never likes any of the things we can afford, and I am not going to pay full price for the things she wants, especially since she does not need them and already has a closet full of very nice things that she will not wear. Occasionally I buy her something she loves, and usually she won't wear it anyhow because it is "too nice," so it's fruitless to please her because then she still has nothing to wear. And when we go shopping, the old topic of her real things in the house that we had to get rid of because they were old, stained, full of disgusting stuff. But in her mind, they are wonderful of course. She doesn't understand that she is living on the result of getting rid of the house at a good time, when real estate was selling well. But today she said for the first time that it is beautiful here. That was the first time I have heard her say anything favorable about California, which can never match up to her sunny memories of independence in Philadelphia and elsewhere.
Richard didn't get home from the doctor until quite late. He says that dad's fever has come down, but they are still worried about his kidney function because of a pain in his back. I never did hear when they want to see him on Monday, and now there is nothing I can do about it till early Monday morning. I want to go to yoga on Monday, and probably will not call until I get out of yoga class. Monday evening I must go to choir practice, so I don't think Monday will be a go for any appointment they make.
Next week is a big one, with the semester starting and at least one appointment (for my mom) on my heaviest work day, Thursday. I'll be running around, and perhaps have little time to eat before I go to the workshop at 7 PM.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Missed Meeting

It is nearly 7:30, and I am sitting, spent and wasted, in front of the computer screen, my burning eyes longing to close for the night, but it's still too early. It was the day from hell I forsaw last week when I took my father to the hospital. That's why I am not at the meeting at school, as I always am before the beginning of the semester.
Today was a bad day for my dad. He didn't sleep last night, his legs swollen with fluids and a terrible pain in his right leg (the side affected by his stroke). Though he was back on the walker, he was bent and obviously in pain, slowly making his way toward the car. I had to take him to a follow-up appointment at his doctor at UCI MC.
The doctor herself had the cold that has been going around. She looked miserable, her nose swollen and her voice harsh and throaty. When we filled her in (partially at least) on what had gone on at the hospital and since--there was so much to tell--she interrupted us to say that she wanted my father to have an ultrasound on his leg to be sure there were no bloodclots and a chest x-ray. But we would have to go home and come back in the afternoon because there were no openings till then.
So I turned around and drove home. Dad had lunch at his house and I grabbed a quick bowl of noodles also and filled Jeremy in on what was going on. Then I got back in the car and took dad back to the hospital for the tests.
It was pretty tough for us to get to the hospital from the parking structure. It became evident that dad needed a wheelchair, but I had the walker to deal with also. So I asked a friendly looking nurse for help. She said my dad reminded her of her own father, and she stuck with us, recruiting help from a passing shuttle driver, who got me a wheelchair. But I had a terrible time pushing my father up the ramp toward the door of the hospital, almost being run over by a run-away chair on the downhill, pushing with all my might on the uphill. The information desk stashed the walker for us, as we rushed toward Radiation for the ultrasound.
By the time we finished the testing, it was already 4:00. We still had to go back to the doctor and hear about the results of the test, but dad was getting sicker and sicker, with chills and pain. His hands were ice cold, his head hot. And he had to pee but couldn't. His stomach was hard and hurt when the ultrasound technician pushed it. We couldn't button his pants, even though he had lost almost 5 pounds since he had last been at the doctor's office. Something was up.
The doctor had gone home by this time, too sick to keep seeing patients. The nurse practitioner took us into her office, and was surprised to hear me say that my dad couldn't pee. Why hadn't we told the doctor that earlier? The simple answer was that my had hadn't told me until after we saw the doctor. He said, "She didn't ask."
She palpated his abdomen, and alarmed, ordered a catheter to be placed in his urethra. For the next hour and a half, the nurses took two quart-size flagons of dark gold pee from my father., and more was still dribbling out when they quit. They left the catheter and a bag in there, and sent us home with the promise that we would return tomorrow afternoon. And on Monday to see the specialist.
It was 7 when I walked in the door with a rotisserie chicken and sides from the market. I was exhausted and shell-shocked, and all I wanted to do was sit still in front of the tv set or computer, not to get back in the car and go to school. So here I am, telling myself that I will go to the meeting tomorrow instead.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A good attitude does wonders

Today I spoke with my father and he sounds like a new man. He seems to have sprung back, eating again, walking around freely on his walker, and full of life. What a difference from yesterday! He was even thrilled at his new hospital bed, and wanted to buy mom one with the $500. increase in his benefits. I informed him $500. would hardly be a downpayment on such an item. His ideas about what things cost are rather unrealistic.
I also had some interesting developments today. I accidentally turned onto the 5 freeway in Tustin, but besides the fact that I was shaking from head to foot, didn't hesitate to move right along, and found that the freeway was not really much different from any other road, as long as I kept as far to the right as I could without exiting where I didn't mean to. I will probably not make a regular thing of it, but may not feel so much trepidation should that happen again. I even changed lanes into a lane where there was a very large truck behind me (fairly far away, but still...)!
This Sunday is the Abraham trial. Notables in the OC Jewish community are trying the patriarch, presided over by Judge Wapner! Chamerinski is the defense attorney. The whole thing is really exciting. I'll keep you posted about how it goes.
Also, the choir will participate in a big religious music concert sponsored by the Irvine AME church. As far as I know, we are the only synagogue participating. I should get some more information so anyone who wants to come can attend. It should be some really great music. Tickets are rather pricy though.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Facing the Future

Today when I visited my parents I wondered how the hell I will be able to deal with the new situation. My dad is hallucinating. He cannot walk and needs a wheelchair. He is incontinent. I am not a large, strong person. I cannot heft a man weighing 169 pounds into and out of a car into a wheelchair. I cannot even lift and easily fold a wheelchair and pack it into my small car. Yet I must. I must take him to more doctor appointments than ever. I must now manage many things that he himself managed, like my mom. It was my dad who kept her under control. Now she is ranging wild, waking him up every five minutes to see if he is still breathing, sitting teary-eyed in her bed all day long now that she cannot go to the Center because it was he who watched after her on the bus and at the Center, so she wouldn't just walk out the door and disappear. Who knows how I will manage it. I guess I will learn who I can ask for help. There must be some agencies available out there to help me if I need them because I don't see how I will do it myself.
Of course, my dad was like this after his first stroke. He eventually came out of it. Perhaps that will happen again. Perhaps. I have noticed for some time that he has been failing in many ways. It evidently isn't going to happen fast and mercifully, but slowly, as one thing after the other is stripped from him cruelly. That is terrible to witness, but it is the way of things quite often.

Moving On

It's a new year, but I seem to be mired in old business. My parents' stuff has ramped up since they are approaching the end of life. Of course, I always knew this would happen, but I am feeling anxious about how to deal with it now that it is here.
My mom is not taking my dad's illness well. It doesn't help that the board and care is in an uproar because the staff at the other houses seems to have left, and the owners and my parents' caregiver have to cover those houses as well as the one where my parents live. The guy they have gotten to cover while they are away is not reliable or even especially civil. That doesn't work at all, especially for my mom, who God knows, is difficult enough even when a person is trying to be helpful and nice.
And if my dad goes first, I don't know how I will get my mom to the adult day care. She needs stimulation, but we cannot afford door-to-door access service more than about once a week. I don't think I'll be capable of driving her to and from the Center in Orange twice a day , even one day a week. There are closer Centers, but this one is covered by grants, so we pay only donations.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

A New Start to the Year

Yesterday evening I picked up the car; it was a fairly expensive repair--the catalytic converter. But the garage manager is an old chum, so he found me a relative bargain. I was grateful and happy to drive home in the old buggy. When I got there, the hospital was on the phone saying to come pick my parents up today, Saturday, about lunch time! They'll be sending a nurse for a few days to check things out. So after yoga class this morning, I'll go pick him up and perhaps clean out my mom's closet. I hope to pick up some of those multi-item hangers so I can get all her shirts and pants together in one place. I'll get her to try things on and put those items that don't fit aside. There are lots of sales, so we can shop if we need to.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

If it's not one thing, it's the other.

We visited my dad again. Richard drove us; my car is still sitting at the repair shop, waiting for mechanics to look at it tomorrow and offer a diagnosis.
My mom was miserable today, a pouting child. She didn't feel well, was coughing, and when I arrived, had bundled herself up in 2 complete outfits, the top pair of pants covered with feathery white shreds of tissue. I stripped her, and began proffering various pairs of pants to go with a striped turtleneck I bought her last year. She never wore it, though it looks very nice on her. None of the pants worked. One was shut tight at the bottom of one leg by some sort of sticky gelatinous substance. I don't want to know what it was. I threw it into the laundry. The others were either too big or too tight at the top. I don't know what happened to the half dozen pairs of pants and shirts I bought her in the last month. Only one of the outfits was available, and the top to go with it was nowhere in sight.
The whole time she shrieked that the room was freezing (it wasn't even slightly chilly) and that the clothes were cold and that no one cared about her, only about dad. She wanted to go back to Philadelphia and live alone in the house. When I told her the house now belonged to someone else and that she needed us to take care of her, she said that I was horrible to her. Even though I knew it wasn't true, it hurt me, and I my head spun with frustration and anxiety. I went hot and cold, got angry, etc.
After all, I was taking her to see dad, not forcing her to do something awful or painful. I was tempted to leave her home and go without her, and perhaps that would have been the right thing to do.
When we got there, with her grumbling that she looked disgraceful (she looked fine) and that no one who cared about her would allow her to set foot outside dressed in that way, dad was fine. He looked so much better after his two blood transfusions, and the nurse and doctors said he would probably be released this weekend. He had shaved and was doing puzzles, and was looking forward to watching the Rose Bowl on TV.
I don't know about her now. I will have to keep my eye on her; I hope I don't end up in the emergency room with her a couple of days from now.