Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Family Business

As I have said before, my extended family (particularly on my father's side) is rather loaded down with neurological and psychological baggage. There are heavy-duty strains of bipolar disorder, Tourette Syndrome,OCD, depression, and genetic disorders. For example, my cousin has a rare genetic disorder, Williams. It is a peculiar and interesting phenomenon because those who have it are severely affected in some ways--most have extremely low IQs, for example, but are very articulate and musical prodigies. Consequently , it is hard to get people to understand or believe that they are disabled, but they are.
Her dad, my dad's half brother, has been struggling with depression and probably OCD all his life (untreated) and in addition, has the added worry of his daughter and for many years, his mentally ill wife, who died last year after a long and terrible illness (mental and physical) that was never properly diagnosed, but was probably genetic since her own mother died under similar circumstances.
My uncle spends a lot of time out here visiting my dad, me, and my cousin in Oakland. He would like me or my cousin up north to help him overcome his depression and make a better life for himself, as I have been able to do for my parents. However, I am really not able to take on any more responsibilities. I have enough, and when I am someday done with them, I would like to take care of myself for a change.
My uncle has a son in his mid-twenties (I think that's his age). But my cousin denies that his father needs help and refuses his father's requests to move in with his son. I understand why my cousin would feel that he cannot help. He watched his mother suffer and die, and there was not a thing he could do. He probably feels the responsibility for his sister hanging over him too, and perhaps even fears he could end up like his parents, mentally ill and depressed, one day. On top of this, he just got married. So I see why he would feel unable to deal with his father right now, but he could at least help him move into a senior community, encourage him to get psychological help, help him to pack up and move out of the house. I, on the other hand, really can't do anything like that, though I have repeatedly tried to get him to see a psychiatrist, without any success.
My dad thinks that if he moves out here, everything will be okay. I doubt that, though at least he would be out of the house where his wife died, most likely by her own hand. That would help, but he wouldn't leave his daughter, and I don't believe she would come out here with him, even if he could enroll her in a program that would support her and pay her rent like the one she is in where they live. She lives with a man who is almost her father's age and whom my uncle despises, and I don't think he would come out here with her anyhow.
I hesitate to make any offers to him; I don't see how I could handle any more responsibility than I have right now, but on the other hand, can I just let him go entirely out of his mind and do nothing? A dilemma.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Someone else's comments about Bailey, my friend Linda's amazing dog

If you are at all an animal person, take a look at these photos and a short essay about my friend Linda's rescue dog. Linda is herself an amazing person, who rescues people and animals. She was originally my son's special ed advocate, all on email, telephone, and by letter, since she lives in Philadelphia. She also rescues pets and abused animals and fosters animals infants.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Apple Video Seminar

Usually I eschew tech training at school because I do not have patience and cannot remember what I hear in these workshops, but today I was intrigued by the prospect of learning how to use Apple video cameras to produce student-generated assignments involving videos that apply the concepts from my classes in order to teach them to other students.
Knowing how well this kind of activity works to empower students and to reinforce the learning they do in classes, as well as taking some of the responsibility for this learning off of me and putting it where it belongs, on the students for a change, I decided to go to an all-day workshop on campus. I don't have time right now to go into all the details (I will fill you in later), but suffice it to say that I had a great time making a short video with my peers--specifically a tech guy from campus, Joe, and a philosophy adjunct, Charlie, who finished the PhD program at UCI in philosophy a few years ago and has been unable to score a full time job. In the video, which I wrote, we imparted some words of wisdom about things one should not do in the classroom as a teaching, including, in a finale starring me, standing on one's head while teaching. Everyone loved it, though our video didn't have high production values compared to the others in the group.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Another reading at Casa Romantica

It's been many months since I mustered the time and the ride to the regular Weds. night reading at Casa Romantica, an amazing venue for fine writing in Capistrano.
Last night, my student from the workshop, Bhasha, took me to a reading there by Bob Cowser and Marilyn Nelson. Again, as previously, the readers were very different, but harmonized to create a fascinating evening.
Though the attendance was sparse, perhaps because of this being the middle of the week and the middle of what is for some spring break, the people who were there were rapt, held by the quality of the work and the performance itself, and I had the weird experience (similar to one I have had before, in large groups of English teachers) of feeling that I knew every person in that room, though technically, I had met just two of them before that I could remember. It felt rather like a homecoming for this reason.
Cowser is a likeable writer who heads up a program in Non-fiction writing at St. Lawrence University, and, accordingly, read to us from an autobiographical essay from his book Scorekeeping, which he insists is not about baseball, though baseball did feature in this essay.
Cowser edits a magazine of non-fiction prose, River Teeth that I want to check out. It's an online journal, so you can check it out for yourself at: http://www.ashland.edu/riverteeth/

The essay he read was quite various, containing, among other things, a poem his father wrote in his early 50s and published shortly thereafter, a sort of musing about his own adolescence, as well as a remembrance of the golden years of his brother's life in baseball before a close friend killed himself, which seems to have robbed him of his strength, physical and mental. In all, the lovely particulars of the essay create a sense of place, time, and character one would hope to see in any fictional work.
However, for me, the highlight of the reading was Marilyn Nelson, a seasoned poet who has won many honors and awards, including poet laureate of Connecticut. Hearing her read made it clear why. I felt I had made a real connection and a discovery in being introduced to her work, though I think I have heard tell of it in passing on public radio.
All of her poems, written in careful and inventive forms that seem as natural as breath, were wonderful, but the ones that really made my hair stand up on end were from Fortune's Bones, which tells of the life of a slave in 18th century Connecticut, owned by a bone-setter (a doctor). After Fortune, the slave, was killed in an accident, his master dissected him, boiled off his flesh, and assembled the bones for study in a medical school he established. Nelson examines the situation from the slave's wife's point of view, the point of view of the master, and finally, that of the slave after death. It was a stunning piece of work, and summed up the writer's propensity for historical and narrative verse. As one might imagine, a controversy has grown up around these bones, which many would like to see buried properly, rather than hanging in a museum. Nelson says that she was handed this subject by the slave's descendants, in her capacity of poet laureate.
It is not often that one makes new discoveries, or even two new discoveries of writers in one evening, as well as finding a place to call home at the same time. I hope others who live close enough to join the audiences assembled for Casa Romantica's readings and its upcoming benefit on May 1 will find this description alluring and attend.

Intriguing Video

Watch this fascinating video of deaf dancers doing an amazing "Dance of a 1000 hands."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thinking Forward

I will be teaching straight through the summer, and not a workshop either--two comp classes, should the enrollment materialize. This is not a vain fear, these days. My classes at this point have dwindled way way down to about 10 in each. I have been told it would be good if I became an easier teacher, but how boring! How could I bear to be like some people who repeat the same things over and over for years on end and never challenge themselves or their students? How could I continue to care or to be excited about what I am doing? Besides, I could probably never be easy enough for some of these folks. I might as well do what interests me, which is why I went into this line of work in the first place.
This summer I am bringing back from the dead a form of a previous class I have taught on Obsession. I will change the focus somewhat to Hauntings. I am thinking of starting with Kelly Link's fantasy story, "Stone Animals," which I discovered quite by accident. It puts me in mind of The Shining, Kubrick's critique of the American Family, but I probably do not have time before the semester starts to get that worked into an assignment so I'll most likely stick with Vertigo, which I know well and have taught a number of times. Then The Turn of the Screw. Students don't like that one much; Henry James isn't easy. It will go with "Stone Animals" well though, and it also teaches well with Vertigo. I've done that before. I could teach The Yellow Wallpaper instead of that, but I don't think so this time.
In the fall, I am looking ahead to another semester of 2 Writing 2 classes (rhetoric and argumentation). I am thinking of making the theme adaptation from literature to film. I've scoped out a couple of textbooks on this subject and will probably teach Shelley's Frankenstein and two versions of that book--James Whales' movie with Boris Karloff, the one we always think of when someone mentions Frankenstein--and Blade Runner, which is not really an adaptation of Frankenstein so much as a comment on or reworking of it. Then students will choose their own reworked book and movie groupings and write research papers of various kinds about them. It might be hard. I suspect it will be, but when students choose their own topics, they tend to like it better. This will give them an opportunity to choose freely from among the many many books and films. I might even consider transformations of different kinds, such as the recent one in which an artist transmogrified Kafka's book The Metamorphosis into a graphic novel, with full text. If someone does that, that person will have to find their own theoretical discussions on which to base such a paper.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wild Animal Park

R. and I went to the San Diego Wild Animal Park today on my last day of break. I didn't sleep well last night because I don't know how I am going to manage to put together two classes--one for summer and one for fall--in the time I have. But it was wonderful to be at the Park today, to put that in the back of my mind for a day, and to look at the new baby elephant, born 10 days ago, and the new baby Cheetah, born I'm not sure when... maybe today. It was so small and fluffy. And the baby rhino, born in November. His skin looked like a very expensive leather bag, or a newly asphalted highway. Wonderful day.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I forgot to say that I have been reading Jayneanne Phillips' new novel, Lark and Termite, for Bookies, the bookclub at school. I didn't take to the book right away. I had to make myself read it. I'm not sure why. Perhaps I wasn't in the mood for its melancholy tone. The slim novel is told, rather like The Sound and the Fury, from the perspective of several of its characters, though it always returns to Lark, the daughter of Lola, who is at the time of the novel, dead by suicide; Termite, Lola's son by a husband who died young in the Korean War, never having seen his child or knowing that he was hydrocephalic; the dead husband, who relates in his section the tale of the battle that took his life; and Nonie, Lola's sister, who cares for Lark and Termite. In places it is lyrical and lovely, hypnotic, but sometimes it dragged for me, and I became impatient with it. Still, I am glad I read it.

Every person is a world

This morning, R and I went to a service honoring my friend M.'s brother, who recently died a sad and early death in Mexico. I hardly knew this brother, though we would regularly meet at birthday parties, dinners, and other events, this due in no small part to my poor hearing. If someone is across a crowded table, that person might as well be a mile away, and even sometimes if the person is sitting next to me, I have trouble hearing him. This is particularly true of men since I have low frequency rather than the usual high frequency hearing loss.
Even without my hearing aids, which I sadly did not think to put on, I gathered that this was a fascinating and very complex person, one who, as R. noted, was born hundreds of years too late, since he seemed like a natural shaman, one who drew both animals and people to him and felt his passions very deeply. It is hard for such a person to live in a world like ours, and life seems to have overwhelmed him early on. We heard those people who loved him most speak of him, and sat down to share their sorrow and to celebrate the life of this person who never quite realized the potential all of them were sure he had.
In the process, I learned more about another tradition, since the service was held at an Episcopal church. I was impressed by the warmth and kindness of the pastor (if that is what one calls an Episcopal clergyman), and found the service uplifting and affecting. I have not always felt this of the services I have attended in the past, whether they were Jewish, Christian, or from various other traditions.
It was a small, dark chapel, evidently with a small congregation, since there are not fixed lines of chairs or pews, but rather only a circle of chairs that could be placed or removed in whatever configuration was needed. But it was simple and beautiful, in the style of the old mission churches, with only dim lights from fixtures and the rest the muted colored lights filtering through stained glass of a very traditional design.
Tonight I will go to our synagogue to watch a one-man play starring Ed Asner, Number of People, playing the part of a Holocaust survivor. I have always liked Asner, so it will be interesting to watch him from this close, and possibly also to greet him after the performance. However, this may not be permitted, since the audience will be divided into groups by the amount they are paying for their tickets. This is a fund-raiser, after all, and that means that general admission tickets may not grant holders the privilege of going to an oneg after the performance. I have noted in the past that I do not much like this sort of practice, which creates rifts between members in the community, but I understand that the synagogue takes money to run, the building is expensive, etc... .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Huntington Gardens

We picked a dandy time to visit the gardens. I hadn't been there for at least 18 years... almost 19, when Jeremy was a tiny infant. It's so far away, and because of my reluctance to drive on freeways, it might as well be the moon.
But my friend Liz apparently feels quite at home on freeways. She didn't let the crush of cars trouble her, or the honking big trucks moseying over the line toward us. She kept tabs on all the lanes just fine, and we reached there and home in one piece.
The gardens were not very crowded, as befits the middle of the week when most schools are not yet on break. We had a clear field to look at the Chinese gardens and plenty of opportunity to speak to the docents. One came over to us when she heard us discussing the lotus plants growing in the lake. I think I have a picture of them here, but perhaps it didn't take. The camera was full, and I had to dump some pictures. I didn't want to dump all of them though, so I could only take a couple. Let's see what came out.
I can tell you that the wisteria were in bloom, and the plum, as well as the cherry trees. There were gorgeous striped white and red camellias, and we were impressed by the scope of the gardens, which made beautiful use of the landscape in which they were placed--the mountains and the existing trees. From any angle, there were inspiring views, and close up, wonderful details, like carvings of camellias in the wooden doors, a bamboo forest (I've never seen one of them before), and a courtyard made up of white stones placed on end and cemented in patterns interspersed with dark elongated stones. I wish I would have had enough room on the camera to show you. It's hard to describe.
We marveled at the miniature garden of Chinese bonsai type trees, arranged in landscapes resembling entire ecosystems, complete with jagged rocks for mountains, moss for grass, and the tortured looking contours of these trees, purposely stunted and made to look as though they were growing on a windy bluff. There were olive trees, evergreens, and tiny forests of a variety I don't remember.
Before coming to the gardens, we stopped at a noodle joint and filled up for the whole day--Vietnamese vegetarian spring rolls with molten peanut chile sauce and a salad with Thai bbq chicken. I walked it all off by the end of the day.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Tomorrow I'm going to the Huntington Gardens with a friend from yoga, Liz. I don't know her too well, but we have previously gone to a yoga cooking lesson together, so I think that we are good to go on a longer trip. She is driving, of course. I don't do freeways, as you know.
I hope to remember to take my camera to take pictures of the gorgeous Chinese garden.
More anon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Field Trip

Three students showed up for the field trip yesterday afternoon. Because there were so few, we were allowed to pull our cars inside the garden, which stayed open especially for us. The botanist, Laura, was not quite sure what to make of us, with our ready notebooks and pens and odd (for a botanist) questions about the plants on display.
We were impressed by the California native plant gardens, organized by region--coast, region, etc. She said that desert plants were not represented in the garden, as they were considered a completely different climate, despite the fact that they were technically well within California.
Then we looked at the South African bulb gardens and some "legacy trees" that had been planted there long ago, when the University was first built.
I took down a number of lovely common names, such as "Whistling Acacia"--this was a wonderful tree, covered with tiny yellow pompons. This particularly tree didn't whistle. The ones in the wild make a sound because they are colonized by ants that make a hollow gall through which the wind passes: hence the whistling. But the ants can't live in this climate. Too warm. And there was another South African plant, Jholla, which sounded like our native Cholla, but was a completely different sort of plant. It looked like a string of green coins, about the sound of silver dollars.
I of course forgot my camera, but my student, Roxanne, took great pictures. She just hasn't sent them to me yet. I will put some up when I get them.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Riding in the Car with Jeremy

Jeremy and I set each other off. That's putting it mildly, actually. I spent much of my early life with my father, whose manic attentions to me came to a head when he was trying to teach me how to drive. I was about 15 when I started, and he continued the fruitless and nightmarish efforts until I was about 18. I never did learn to drive from him because of his bipolar rage. He would go off at me at the slightest hint of indecision or fear, which of course made things much much worse. Consequently, it was not until I was well past 40 that I finally got my license, after several sets of driving lessons, efforts by Richard, and by several friends. It took a while to shake the negative conditioning and associations.
It all seemed to begin again though when I put Jeremy into the car (out of necessity) when he was learning to driving. His front, back, side seat driving intensified until it sounded an awful lot like my father's hectoring. Nothing I did was ever right; he would rage and scream, and it would escalate until he ended up slamming the car door and going into the house, where he would heave huge cartons of Gator Aid across the room and throw all my papers into the air.
This happened again yesterday. This was following a discussion we had last week where he denied that he had rage. As usual, it was all my fault because I set off his anger.
It appears that my efforts to avoid setting off his anger are the very thing that do it. I cannot do anything about that. He just needs medication, and I need to keep him out of my car.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Friday the 13th

I forgot till just now that it was supposed to be an unlucky day. Besides the fact that the store from which I had received an advertising mailer (Burlington) never stocked the thing on the mailer I went there for today, and the fact that my parents weren't there when I stopped off hoping to take my dad to buy tomato plants today rather than this weekend, it's been a pleasant day, actually. I went to yoga, met with students at the library, and went to the store for the fruitless errand of buying that bedding. Oh well.


We had a workshop last night in which we focused on the poetic line. It was interesting studying poems with long lines, like Ginsberg's poem "At a Supermarket in California" and concrete and graphic poems, as well as poems that used lining to create meaning (almost anything by Heather McHugh, but we looked at "A Man in the Street"). Then we did a kitchen sink sort of exercise where students used longer or shorter lines than usual and had to mention a particular song or movie, a kitchen appliance, a person they hadn't seen in years, a town they had never lived in, and had to use 3 of the following words: spinach, mucus, wrinkle, sprawling. We all had fun trying to pack all of this in there; I don't think anyone,including me, was able to use mucus successfully. I tried, as you would expect, having the character in the poem microwave spinach to "a pool of mucus" (visualize pond scum), but it just wasn't happening. Actually, I think these perameters lend themselves more to a short story than a poem. That was the feeling of most of the resulting stuff.
Tomorrow we meet for our field trip at the arboratum. I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The family saga continues

Last night the Torah group met again, this time to discuss the Joseph story. Like any good drama, this one is interspersed with several parallel plots. In addition to the story of the twerp, Joseph, the favorite son who rats on his older brothers and sports fancy duds, there is also the story of Tamar and Judah, which I had not really been familiar with. Tamar is another of those female heroes in the Torah who continue the Jewish people despite everything. Judah is Jacob's son, one of those who threw Joseph in the pit and wanted to kill him, but after his wife's death, he sleeps with his disguised daughter in law, Tamar, who has been widowed by two of his sons. He sees her as a kind of black widow, though there is no evidence at all that she has been responsible for his ne'r do well sons' deaths. The book gives God full responsibility for that, as a form of punishment for sexual and other perversions. Tamar has been promised to the youngest son, in another Levirite marriage (marriage by the next male relative in mind to continue the line), but Judah has not acted on his promise, so Tamar takes things into her own hand, disguises herself as a prostitute, and waylays the horny Judah at the gates of the town. After he sleeps with her, she demands his rod and his staff (a possession of his phallus, an emasculation but also a symbolic marriage), and this saves her life later, when she turns up pregnant (with twins, again! What a family for these multiples!), and Judah accepts responsibility for her act, since he did not give her his son in marriage, as promised, but he never touches her again.
These dramas are tied to Joseph's story by garments--Tamar's veil, with which she disguises her identity, the rod and staff by which Judah's identity and responsibility are revealed parallel Joseph's tell-tale coat, sign of his power and status.
Interestingly, the commentators have seen Joseph as possibly gay. The Torah speaks of his beauty, and the rabbis ran with this. He is a tattletale, not a physical man, unlike his violent, brutal brothers. Supposedly he has curly eyelashes and certainly he struts about like a queen in the transvestite's parade in Provincetown MA (I have several times attended this most interesting event).
This puts a whole different spin on his adventure with Potaphar's unnamed wife, especially since Potaphar himself is intially described with a word that means "eunich." A member of the group told us that it was very common for any male posted near the palace to be castrated, since the pharoah's harem was so large and so alluring that this precaution was deemed necessary. So perhaps Potaphar acquired Joseph to service his wife--or to service Potaphar himself? Who knows? In any case, I never gave the story this spin before. It resonates differently, doesn't it?
I am enjoying this ongoing group, though it is hard to fit it into my already busy life.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Yoga and cooking

Yesterday I went to an Indian cooking lesson at the home of a friend from yoga, another lovely place in San Juan Capistrano, though not the palace of a few weeks ago. Short of cash because her husband lost his job, she decided to try teaching us to cook daal and rice, something she herself learned to do from her ayervedic doctor some time ago.
I have in the past made dal, but it has been a while, so I decided to join in the party and renew my acquaintance with this Indian dish.
For those who aren't familiar with it, dal is a staple of Indian vegetarian cooking made of lentils, spices, and onion. Its pure, simple heartiness plays off of the subtle sauces and complex preparation of other Indian dishes.
The secret of making good dal, apparently, is the quality of the few ingredients. Our hostess bought organic spices, rice, lentils, and vegetables, including spinach. She said that any vegetable could be combined with the lentils, but she chose spinach for its vibrant contrast with the orange of the lentils, and stressed the need for the cooks' positive attitude and anticipation as we prepared the meal.
Unlike me, with my haphazard and frenzied approach to meal preparation, she was meticulous about the thinness of the slicing, the focus of the cook as she prepared each individual ingredient.
There were 7 of us, only one other person I knew initially, and only one pot, one frying pan, so we took turns doing the tasks necessary to prepare the meal.
When it was finished, I had already noshed on the organic non-gluten crackers and had two cups of rose tea, which smelled like a fresh bouquet of American Beauties. All of us had developed an appetite in the preparation, and enjoyed our meal.
Our hostess had gained a good deal from this way of eating and living. She had epilepsy as a child and young adult, but with yoga, meditation, and ayervedic diet, she completely eliminated the symptoms and the need for medication. Though I do not attend her yoga classes, since I study only Iyengar yoga and she is not an Iyengar teacher, I consider her a friend and thank her for her assistance in Bob's yoga class, where she sometimes gently corrects my asanas.
Here is the recipe she gave us:
1 cup of Masoor Dal (split red lentils)
1/2 tsp of organic mineral salt
pure water
1-2 tbs of ghee, Indian clarified butter, which comes in a can, or make your
1/2 thinly sliced organic onion
1 tsp cumin seed
a pinch of asafetida (hing) [caution! make it a relatively small pinch; this is
potent stuff, which in abundance can make your home smell like the inside
of an old gym shoe]
1/2 tsp turmeric (she recommended organic, since regular can be cut with
other spices)
1-2 fingers of finely chopped organic ginger
1 thinly sliced bunch of spinach (or any green vegetable, such as asparagus,
chard, etc.)
1 small chopped bunch of cilantro
1 chopped avocado
organic salt and pepper to taste
Garnish with finely chopped organic cilantro, avocado cubes, a nd sliced organic lime. Serves 4 with basmati rice.
Rinse the lentils until the water becomes less cloudy (approximately 4 or 5 times)
Soak lentils for 45 minutes
Rinse and replace the water till it is about 3 fingers above the level of the lentils
Bring to a boil partially covered; then skim off the foam! This is important because otherwise
you'll get gas.
Reduce the heat, adding salt and turmeric.
Cover and cook until creamy, which takes a while.
In a separate small saute pan, heat the ghee on high.
Add cumin seeds till they pop (watch your eyes)
Reduce heat, adding the onion to the cumin seeds and onion, and saute till the onions are translucent.
Add other spices (the ginger and asafetida)
Pour all of the contents of the frying pan into the lentils, stir, and then serve over the rice.
Serve with naan or flatbread.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Everlasting Moments

Last night, I couldn't find any movies I wanted to see playing locally. I really wanted to see the Swedish indie film, Everlasting Moments, directed by septegenarian, Jan Troell, which is a true period piece about a woman with 9 children and a brutal drunkard of a husband who discovered quite by accident that she loved photography and had a gift for it about the time of WWI. It was only playing in LA, but I learned that it was On Demand!
My fellow-blogger Lou has said in the past that one can watch films that are still in theaters on cable, but I never tried it before. This time, I watched the film, and it was really wonderful--the most beautiful cinematography and acting, though the translations were a bit dicey--not ungrammatical, just unidiomatic. Sometimes there were words that might have no English equivalents, at least not American ones. How does one translate "haulier," which apparently means a small rural transportation company? It isn't a taxi, exactly, more like a vanpool. But they weren't vans, but wagons. Perhaps one might as well English the Swedish word, which is what the translator did in the subtitles. I wouldn't tolerate a dubbed film, so I have to live with subtitles.
As I was watching, I remembered some Swedish words from my Bergman binges in the distant past at school.
I heartily recommend that you watch it--either on cable or in the theater. I'm sure it would be beautiful on the large screen.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lizard Parts

Now that it is spring, I think that an outdoor cat is courting one of my indoor ones. I think this because, even though I haven't seen any outdoor cats hanging around lately, yesterday there was a portion of lizard, fresh and still twitching, in front of my door when I came with an armful of groceries to put things into the house. The cats had their own wee bit of grocery, though I didn't deign to bring it into the house.
It was a tail, probably a skink, with a good bit of hindquarter meat attached, and they spied it when I opened the door. These cats, who have never been outside on their own in their lives, tried to escape through the crack of the door because of the twitch of that tail. It was so alluring.
I hope it wasn't me, opening the door unexpectedly on the sunbathing skink, who caused this. In any case, from a human perspective, one cannot help but thinking that it means something. I don't know what though.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Post Yoga Post

I went to Denise's class today in Newport Beach. It was the first time I'd been to her class since she had her surgery. She was full of energy, although she said the stitches were still painful, and it was a spectacular class. I was stiff and a bit depressed when the class started, and my stomach was still roiling. But by the time she'd wrung us out with twists and elaborate forward bends, I felt great. I always tell people that with a class like that, in which one constantly loses her balance and has to work at turning herself around like a cork screw, it feels so wonderful just to stop at the end of class and gain back one's regular sea legs, that it fixes whatever ails a person. It did me. It fully merited the pot of lily of the valley I brought her as an offering.

Last night's workshop

I wasn't feeling too well yesterday. I had a serious case of dyspepsia that seemed like the beginning of a bug. I don't get sick very much anymore, so when I do, it's like those rare stormy days in Southern California, that seem so much more extreme than they really are because we are unused to them. And I probably had a mild fever, though I dosed myself with Ibuprofen to get through what I needed to yesterday, my major work day of the week.
This morning I slept in a little, as much as Whistler would allow, and feel somewhat better, well enough to go to yoga class at 10 this morning.
We are starting to talk about sound and rhythm in workshop, which is always a challenge. As I did last summer, I began with fun and games. Rather than doing the usual academic thing of going over the various nomenclatures for rhythm in poetry (iamb, trochee, anapest, etc.), which is boring to listen to and hard to talk about, I began by choosing poems that imitated the sounds of the things they were discussing, like Yeats' "Lake Isle of Innisfree" and Kay Ryan's "Crustacean Island." Interesting they are both Islands, isn't it? We also closely examined a sound-game by Christian Bok, "Vowels," a spare little piece in which he used only the letters from the word "Vowels" to create a poem that sounded really interesting and accrued meaning as it went along.
Following that, we listened to some sound files from the Internet from a webpage in which an instructor read a poem by Emily Dickinson two different ways (one heavy on the poem's ostensible iambic tetrameter--blecch!) and the other to an altogether different rhythm, that of the thing he believed she was writing about, a train (intriguing and much more true to the nature of the poem). Then we sang Dickinson poems to the strain of midi tunes such as "The Yellow Rose of Texas," "Gilligan's Island," and "Amazing Grace." It was really a blast.
Then we did an exercise in which students wrote poems to the rhythm of songs of their choice, without of course ever using words from those songs' lyrics, if they had any. Some very interesting stuff emerged.
Several people were absent from class. One at least I knew was going to be absent since he was out of town. The other two might have been absent because I sent out an email and said if I was not feeling better, I would cancel class, but I didn't cancel class. Didn't send out an all clear email either because there was just too much to do yesterday. When a class is this small, that can be a problem.
I am still thinking about what my son was saying about my teaching. Though I think that I do have something of value to offer to my students or to whomever asks me to contribute my comments about their writing, I could definitely benefit from an effort to be less harsh in the way I phrase things. I resolve to work on that since it is the reason Richard hasn't shown me work in years and no doubt the reason many students have dropped and many friends don't ask my opinion anymore about things they have written.
I can only grow from the effort.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


I have been writing poems half my life, at least, but for some reason, with the exception of the two collections I had to put together for my degrees in writing, I have never been able to pull them together into a real collection. I have resolved to do this, and I'll start with a 25 page chapbook for qarrtsiluni's contest. Though I have no illusions about winning it, at least it will motivate me to put something together!
With the workshop this semester, I have been writing so many new poems, and of course I have a backload of poems that haven't been published (and some that have), so I should, theoretically, be able to put something together. The problem is that it just seems so forced, and all the cliches of sections of a book don't seem to fit, for some reason. Then there's a title. But I'll have to give it a try. Starting with a chapbook should get me into the mood for doing the work of organization.
I don't want to sew the poems into pillows, as Dickinson did. After all, I can't even sew! So this seems like something I must do at some point. It might as well be now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


Today my son told me had read what students had to say about me on Ratemyprof.com, this after I told him I didn't want to know, didn't care, didn't want to read, ever, what those students, embittered, angry ones, mostly, had to say about me or my teaching. But he, after all, an expert, a college student of the very sort who writes these choice notes about a person who has spent all of his or her life attempting to communicate with college students like himself, with various degrees of success, feels that if I listen to the overall tone and message of these ratings, I may have more success reaching the very audience I aim for. In his view, if I just ease up, give less work, grade less onerously, I will be popular, and therefore reach more students.
I am skeptical. I have never in my life been popular with the majority of people around me. Why would that start now, no matter what actions I take? The students who don't want to be there, who don't care about the subjects they are taking, are not going to want to hear about those subjects no matter how the teachers package them. And those who want to try, who are inspired to learn, are going to pay attention, and some of them are going to do fine. Some are not. That is just the way it is.
If I didn't have to give grades, I could shrug and send students on their way to the next class. But since I have to, I must apply those standards to everyone, in a fair and equal way. Otherwise, I couldn't live with myself and wouldn't be doing my job.
No one ever taught me to write, till I got to college. I guess I want to return the favor, even if students would rather that I didn't.

Monday, March 2, 2009


I should already know that plans are just plans. They often don't happen as one wishes. But I've got my eye on the upcoming spring break. I want to do something I don't usually have the time to do when things are rolling along full force, take a train somewhere, go on an adventure. I don't want to do it by myself though. That's not fun. If any of my loyal readers want to join me, let me know.
I am still looking into field trips for my workshop. It seems though that Casa de Tortuga has not given public tours since 2006. I found a website that declared this, when no one answered the phone call I made to the number I found for the place. Disappointing. I have sent an email asking if there are other places of this nature I might take the class. No word yet.
I may have to forstall all my plans again to find my parents another place to live, unfortunately. My dad needs to have a nurse present who can change the catheter on a regular basis. I don't know at all how we are going to manage this. I don't want to separate my parents or put dad in a nursing home. He doesn't need to be in bed, and he will be very unhappy. So will my mom. Who knows what I can do about this! I hope the nurse practitioner has some good suggestions because this is really troubling me.
But I know I am not the only one with worries. I am sending out more virtual hugs to my friends R. and M.. M's brother is very ill and refusing medical care. For what it's worth, I am thinking about you.