Thursday, April 30, 2009

Denise's Yoga Class--A Tribute to Guru Ji (BKS Iyengar)

My yoga teacher, Denise Thibault, took the group picture I show here on the occasion of Iyengar's 90th birthday. We are all wearing shirts celebrating the event.
Iyengar helped to turn the practice of yoga, which had been an individual study passed down from an individual guru to a single student, to one taught to a class full of students, capable of being passed along to a mass audience.

Missed opportunities, continued

Some years after I finished my PhD, I was offered a position in the Comp Lit program at UCI (probably part time, but I'm not sure). Apparently, some visiting experts on Russian lit and Nabokov had admired parts of my dissertation. But I turned it down, feeling unprepared to teach Russian literature to graduate students. After all, I was never able to get the background I needed to do that. Undergraduates I could have managed; however, grad students at UCI--that would be another story.
It is true that I have had one personal responsibility after another--my son, my parents, as well as my own anxiety to grapple with-- but it felt as if I were fleeing this opportunity out of fear.
Perhaps after my experience at the University, it was best to stay away from the place as far as such a job is concerned, but perhaps not.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

More about my academic past

I don't think about my past in graduate school very much (the Ph.D. part of it, anyhow). I try not to, actually, because it was such a difficult and even humiliating experience. It wasn't the course work. I was very good at that because I singlemindedly dedicated myself to it, threw myself into it, really, and enjoyed writing many of the papers. But the exams were horribly difficult for me. And so was the dissertation.
The written exams were 4 (or was it 5?) publishable essays, written in 24 hours, and chosen from among several questions based on my bloated list. The list was based on the issue of science and literature, and the problem was that my committee members and I had differing ideas about what this constituted. And we were never able to straighten that out. I set out to read and study all of those works, but the effort was such that I was never really able to pull anything together based on my reading.
Then there was the unclosable gap in critical assumptions between my one Russian committee member and the rest of the comparative lit people. They didn't know each other at all and I ended up sandwiched between people who were glaring at each other across the table. The hostility was palpable.
Add to this that it was really an impossible task I had taken on. I never was able to gain a respectable background in Russian literature because there were no courses at UCI to speak of that I could rely on, and it was tough to get to UCLA, where I took one or two courses. There were the two summer programs I went to, but that couldn't take the place of a real focus in Russian literature in Russian or in translation. So my effort was a lost cause to begin with.
I had thought about this before I came to school at UCI, and wanted to go to Berkeley, UCLA, or Stanford, but my husband liked his job at that time, and requested that I find a way to stay here.
I should have changed focuses from Nabokov and Russian 19th-20th century novel to something else. God knows I had a lot of offers to do so.
Murray Krieger wanted me to study Renaissance Lyric with him, and I know that would have been an enjoyable experience. He was so kind and helpful and his class in the subject, which I audited, was brilliant. I also had offers from faculty members who wanted me to study French poetry (less attractive to me) or German literature (not attractive at all, despite the fact that I like reading Kafka). Or I could have become an Americanist. But I was too pig-headed, stubborn, and one-track to do any of these things.
When Wolfgang Iser asked me to work with him, hoping I would provide the solid English writing skill he needed to communicate his ideas, I agreed, a decision I would later come to regret. For I did not have in mind the kind of relationship German professors have with their graduate students, a kind of ventriloquism. I wanted, as usual, to write my own ideas, to do my own thing, a very American pursuit. This pissed him off massively. But I had no way of understanding what he expected; indeed, he never told me, and neither did anyone else, including his former grad students, who were also professors in the Comp Lit program at UCI.
At the end, Iser told me that I had singlehandedly wrecked a potentially successful career, and that I ought to go teach nursery school because that was all I was fit for. I slunk away, devastated, and hid for a few years before emerging to teach at both UCI and at various community colleges again.
I suppose in his way of thinking, I did ruin my career. I can't deny it. But life goes on, and I still have ability. And I still teach.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Dad's Complaint

It has been a while since my father has complained about the place where he lives. In the past, he would regularly rage and demand that this, that, or the other change be made. But yesterday was the first time in at least a year I've heard him say he wants to move if this problem is not addressed.
My father is big on food. It is one of the pleasures of his life. So he has been happy at this board and care because the caregiver is a very good cook, a trained chef, in addition to all the other things she does. But for the past few days, he says, the meat he has been given has been "crap" in his words. It is full of fat and inedible. He asked the caregiver about it, and she said that the owner told her to buy it; she knows it isn't any good.
That makes him particularly angry because we frequently buy special things to eat for my parents and share them with all the residents (there are only 5 residents in all). Sometimes it's bbq chicken, sometimes very good canned salmon from Costco, sometimes even steak or lamb chops. We also buy my mom toilet paper, shampoo, body wash, and conditioner. We buy many things that the house should technically pay for because my parents are particular. We also buy towels and have on occasion even bought brooms and other cleaning tools. So for them to give my parents inferior food is unforgivable. I made it clear that my father was serious about this, and that they better start giving him and my mom better food. I think the owner heard me, but he tried to weasel out of it. I hope I don't have to move my parents. I have enough to do. Too much.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Another writing hike

You may think that it is anomalous for me to take a writing workshop, since after all I have been teaching such workshops myself, but the workshop in the Irvine parklands is something different, one designed to teach something not primarily about writing but about the wildlands in this area. That is something I do not know well, knowledge that I can use. It may be a way for me to get into hiking a little, since I am certainly not inherently an outdoors person.

Yesterday we went to a place called Baker Canyon, off (way off) Santiago Canyon Road and Black Star Canyon Rd, in the middle of nowhere. But it seems that this was not always the case. In earlier times, there was lots going on there. While I was there, I wrote the following, based on the tales (tall or otherwise) our guides told us:
Places like these are supposed to be peaceful and pure, pure because free of all that is human. But more than a cursory look belies this view: barely visible in the trees, a bug zapper hangs in a live oak, a remnant of a time not so long ago when people frequented this place, now peopled only by scrub jays and scorpions, coyotes and red-tailed hawks.
What strikes me now as the potentially hazardous aspects of this place, its remoteness, secluded behind a defunct RV park on a rutted dirt road, the close circle of black hills ringing the entrance to the canyon, jagged as molars, probably seemed less of a threat to earlier generations when the metropolis Orange County has become had not yet sprung into being. That was a recent development.
In fact, when I came to Southern CA in 1980, lemon groves still dominated the landscape and massive eucalyptis made driving hazardous, particularly at night. Now only a few of these remain. And Baker Canyon is back country, that once, no doubt, seemed not all that different from the rest. The shrubs and wild grasses, opportunists, seized the opportunity, claiming abandoned irrigation valves, the bare chassis of a tractor, the fallen roof of the school for the blind that once occupied this place.
If it had not been for the flames that swept the Canyon last year like a herd of roan horses, gnawing the bush down its roots, we would find no trace from that earlier time. Some things have disappeared for good though, like the baseball diamond where sighted teachers pitched screaming sinkers from the mound, bound for the carefully aimed bats of the blind children. We are told the teachers would call out from the bases, guiding the children on their route toward home.
An interpretive trail for the blind looks daunting now, headed up rocky and steep hillsides scored by sharp metal stakes. Perhaps a wooden walkway once made the way smooth or perhaps blindness alone honed the children's senses so much that what seems daunting to us represented no particular threat, no more than the rest of the wide, dangerous world.
What did those children experience here that they could not find elsewhere? The smell of wild lilac, the rough bark of a venerable sycamore, the feel of the dirt trail underfoot. How was their experience different from mine now?
History haunted this canyon then, as it does now. Some say that the infamous Orange County outlaw, Juan Flores, hid out in this area after robbing and murdering local farmers and shopkeepers. However, much about this man is in dispute. Before that, Native American baskets and arrowheads probably could be found in these fields. Did some blind child squat in the dust between stalks of wild rye and feathery yarrow to test the edge of a chiseled obsidion arrowhead with his thumb?
Now I bend to look more closely at tiny winecups, wild flowers that look like inverted exclamation points or tiny matches, tipped with magenta. A scrubjay scolds me, his cold avian eye a pool of black light.
Though the world I inhabit seems miles of winding blacktop away, I can almost hear the voices of the others who once walked this land. We are never alone in this world. Every place we go, someone was there before us. It takes only a bit of careful observation or a fortuitous burn-off to reveal their treasures.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Serendipity or shape

Today at the bar and bat mitzvah of two friends from synagogue, a married couple, former professors at UCI's music department, I sat down alone at a table and was soon surrounded by people I didn't know at all. Most everyone was from the University, so I had probably seen them along the way somewhere, but there were also former students and parents of former students of one of the celebrants, since she used to give piano lessons. One of these parents sat next to me and began asking me about myself. I asked him how he knew the bar and bat mitzvah couple and he told me his son was a former piano student of the bat mitzvah celebrant, long ago.
After a circuitous route in which he quizzed me about my dissertation (a rare thing these days; no one cares what I wrote... perhaps not even me). I told him I wrote about Nabokov, and after trying to explain what I talked about (the game of authorship in some of Nabokov's novels and why people want to play along with it in the first place), we got into a discussion of Russian literature and HIS dissertation, on Hamlet in modern Russian verse. Turns out the guy used to teach Russian language and lit at Indiana University, one of the foremost programs in Russian in the country. I spent a summer there in 1986 in the Russian Institute.
He was surprised to learn that I knew as much as I did about Russian lit and had made something of an effort to study the language and tradition, though admittedly, I was unable to pull off the effort to single-handedly study the topic by myself, without a department capable of making this fully possible at UCI. I know the political rift between the Formalists and Structuralists who taught Russian in the recent past (up to the last few years, probably) and the Post-Structural Comparatists is an immense, vast, and contentious one, having gotten mired in these very tiresome politics during my orals.
He studied at Cornell in the 60s, well before this stuff happened, so probably he was a bit unclear on that topic. He didn't know very much about critical theory, post New Criticism, and had just missed Nabokov, who was leaving Cornell when he arrived, having gained enough fame and money with Lolita that he was able to quit teaching for good.
But what was so surprising is that two days in a row--yesterday with Carol Davis and today with this fellow--I ran into enthusiasts of Russian literature. That really happens very very rarely.
One ignores such accidents at her peril. Perhaps I should think about what it means.
I studied Russian in high school, using the natural method (Guspodin Smit govorit pa russki), and after that, in undergraduate school with two White Russians of the old school who reminded me very much of Nabokov's character Pnin, though one was female, and made of sterner stuff, and tried to study it at UCI, with very limited success.
I am not a talented student of language, though I enjoy it. I forget words easily and became frantic in the Indiana Institute when I could not communicate freely. I am a talker, as those who know me will attest. But Russian literature is very attractive to me and after all, at least half my family came out of Russia (the other half out of Lithuania, via South Africa and England). Though many Russians would contest that I am in essence Russian in heritage, since I am a Jew, I feel myself in some way to be Russian-- more indeed than Middle Eastern. Although I was almost born in Israel, the child of pioneers from the 40s, I identify with Russia more, I think, than with Israel, while detesting its anti-semitism and ugly nationalist fascism (and though this may not be popular with some of my readers, I don't much care for Israel's politics either). But it's easy to say that. I have never been there. Never been to either place, actually. Maybe someday I will be able to travel.

Link to Tebot Bach

I am adding a link for Tebot Bach's webpage, so you can read about their worthy endeavors for literacy and the promulgation of poetry:

Tebot Bach

Last night I went to a reading and open mic at Tebot Bach (Little Teapot, in Welsh), at Goldenwest College. The last time I went there, last summer or so, I very much enjoyed the atmosphere and the company. Unlike many reading series and open mics, this one had about it no air of exclusivity or snobbishness. Yet the company included not a few accomplished poets, teachers and others in the community that one would not hear assembled together as in this place.
The featured readers were excellent, as usual. Carol V. Davis read mostly from her collection
Into the Arms of Pushkin, which was wonderful--funny, interesting, and poignant. There were poems about the time she has spent in St. Petersburg, Russia as a Fulbright Scholar and as a teacher in Russia, where poetry has always been something akin to sacred. I don't know if it is still that way, since the modernization of the place, which she describes quite succinctly. They seem to aim to outdo us in their turning away from the arts and culture to the world of fashion and fad, at least from the outside, from the few relatively recent Russians I have met. But probably there is still at heart what Mrs. Hamilton, my Russian teacher at Hollins, called "the Russian Soul." I should leave that capitalized because it is a proper name for sure, a brand.
David Oliviera also read poems about his expatriot experiences--this time in Cambodia. He was a student of Phillip Levine's from the Central Coast of California, and had been closely identified with poems of that region, so probably, he felt the urge to try out other places, and the long poem he read from was fully imbued in the people and place of his new home.
I remembered at least two of the open mic readers from last time because they were solid, interesting writers in their own right, working at honing their own voices. And they were joined by at least one new writer (new to me), a grandmotherly woman reading a bilingual poem in English and Spanish. She told us that she was part of a workshop for seniors in her community, and it was wonderful to hear that there is so much good writing going on all over the place.
I couldn't talk any of my own students into coming, although they would have been an interesting addition to the group, with something of their own to add. Maybe another time.
I read three poems myself, including the new one, "Fremont Station," from the hike I took last Sunday. It was wonderful to read again, but I was more nervous than I have been. That's a first for me. I have never been nervous before standing at a microphone, whether I was reading poems, stories, or giving a paper. It has been so long.
It would be nice to develop a reading series on this end of the county, but perhaps the new one at Laguna Beach Books will fit the bill. If Sunday were not such a tough day for me right now, I'd go there too.

Friday, April 24, 2009


By the way, I forgot to say that after Richard inspected the ticket, he said Jeremy had NOT won anything; the house had a straight flush, which beat Jeremy's 4 Jacks.

One of those evenings

Thursday is my busy day this semester. I start out in the morning at the Writing Center, teach my rhetoric class till about 1, then head home to tackle more mundane tasks like laundry and cooking or whatever presents itself. Yesterday, I had to take my mother to the psychiatrist after my class. When I got home, all I wanted to do was cook and eat dinner and go teach my poetry workshop at 7. But it was not to be.
When I came in from my mother's appointment, Jeremy was sitting in the living room. I handed him a fat envelope from my mother in law, containing pictures of the latest snow storm in Floyd (beautiful) and a lottery scratcher from VA.
Then I set to fixing dinner, which was in this case only a matter of microwaving a frozen Chinese dinner from Costco (not my usual tactic, but it looked intriguing and was of course fast).
Suddenly, Jeremy called out--"Mom! I think I won $100,000. with this scratcher!"
I came bounding out of the kitchen, but since I know nothing about Texas Hold Em, I couldn't decipher whether he had indeed won the prize. He was sure though, so we called my in laws and then I emailed the VA lottery.
Jeremy was very mature about this; I was probably less so, letting my mind run away with the things we could do with some of that money. My son kept reminding me that we didn't know for sure, and that we had been through similar things before with lottery tickets. He said if we did win, he wanted to divide the money equally among us, what was left after the taxes.
I set about getting ready for class, but just as I was about to walk out the door, at about 6, my dad called, sounding very unhappy and in pain. I had noticed when I dropped off my mom that the home health care nurse had changed my dad's foley (his urine bag and catheter), which happens once every 3 weeks. There was a little bit of orange liquid in the tube, which rang some alarm bells in my head. I asked him if he was okay, and he said that changing the tube really hurt this time. More bells. I told him to drink lots of water and keep an eye on it.
Now, three hours later, he had a bag full of blood and no urine. The nurse had put the tube in the wrong place.
I had no way to reach anyone at school to cancel my class, though I tried a couple of numbers.
So when Richard walked in, already beseiged with the lottery ticket and other business, I told him my dilemma. He offered to take my dad. I tried to get him to take my class instead, since he is certainly qualified to teach it. But he preferred the emergency room.
At class, I was a wreck. I had no way to call Richard since he refuses to have a cell phone. But the class went very well, actually. We discussed odes (Keats' "Ode to a Nightingale" and Pablo Neruda's Elementary Odes) and wrote our own odes, then had a full workshop of poems from nearly everyone in the class. When I got home, Richard was eating soup. He told me that the ER took my dad right away because he was bleeding and in obvious pain. Once they replaced the tube, he was fine, making jokes, and today he went to the Center. He's a tough old bird.
Thank you everyone for your effort to assist me.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My own private restaurant

Lately, like many other people, R. and I have not been going out to eat very much. We are wary about the future of the economy in this country, and for that matter, the world, so we are trying to save as much as we can, something we haven't been too good at in recent years.
Taking care of my parents and managing their money has made it easier to see the long view on one's finances, and though we never had very much (no home, for example, that belongs to us), we have more than many as far as income goes, so we should try to conserve some of it.
But after the hike this past Sunday, on that hot day, when I wanted nothing more than to eat and go home and wash my hair and sweaty, creepy-crawly self, we went out to eat at a new Indian restaurant a few blocks from our house called Annapurna.
The restaurant had just opened up three days before, so we were the only customers there. The waiters continually swept by the table carrying freshly steamed Idlis, lovely crisp dosas to be dipped in the curry or chutney or raita, and wonderful, fresh Naan, hot, steamy, and still glistening with ghee.
The a la carte menu, which I glanced at briefly, was not yet available, so we forked out some extra dough for the buffet. Like most Indian buffets, this one was fairly pricey, though worth what we paid, certainly. It was separated into two parts: vegetarian and non-vegetarian, and there were ample choices on both sides. Everything (just about) was excellent--not so spicy that one couldn't swallow a mouthful (and I've had Indian food like that) and not wimpy either. The fried idli, filled with an unidentified, savory and unctuous filling, was toothsome as a starter, especiallly along with the various and sundry vegetarian curries, the names of which I did not note. I didn't try all of them; there were simply too many. I'll have to go back another time, but I'll bet that as the seasons change, these will change as well. The meat bar had two kinds of chicken dish, rich and tender, one lamb, and a coconut chutney that was wonderful. There was a lovely rice pudding, and though this is usually not one of my favorite dishes, I liked this version, which was subtle and fragrant, and various fruits for dessert.
Though I know that more people will join us the next time we come (at least I hope so for the future of this restaurant), it will always feel like my private place, partly because we were there at the beginning and because of its small, cozy size and milieu.
I am looking forward also to the promised Indian-spiced Chinese dishes that the owner told me he would be carrying soon, and the various stuffed dosas listed on the a la carte menu, which were very very reasonable and alluring.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Spring Semester Blues

Spring semester does drag on and on. I usually actually forget about the last week or so because it is so much longer than fall semester, and then there's spring malaise, which comes about when one glances out the window and would so much rather be there than in the house grading papers or planning classes.
That's where I am right now. It is hard to make myself plan classes or seriously sit down and consider bureaucratic business like the latest SLO forms I must fill out or whatever. But I count myself lucky since as a part-timer, I don't have many of those duties to perform, not nearly so many as full-time people, who pay a price for security in the time they must waste jumping through hoops.
It's not as though I have summer vacation ahead of me. I will be teaching 4 days per week all summer long, which will begin a week or two after spring semester is over. If I feel this way now, I hope I do not feel fried by the end of that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The poem I wrote on the hike

I have decided to post the poem I wrote on the hike. I was discussing sestinas and villanelles with my class last week. We wrote a collective sestina (and I gave them an assignment to rewrite it as whatever it turned out to be, which was not necessarily a sestina) or a villanelle. On the writing hike, I sat down and began to work on the villanelle, since the form was relatively simple (though writing a decent one is not easy). It's not wonderful, but it has some promise. So I have decided to post it:

Fremont Station
What wild cry echoes in brown hills?
I've cracked the crust of ancient riverbeds.
The sharp sound echoes still.

A bobcat, one paw on its latest kill,
raises its sleek head
wondering what wild cry echoes these brown hills.

The old road has dropped six feet,
or so the guide has said...
and now it seems the sharp sound echoes still.

Purple swaths of Chinese Houses spill
down the ravine and into tire treads.
What wild cry echoes in brown hills?

Where brushfires burned last April, finches trill.
Snapping tongues of flame have turned the trees to lead:
in the withered branches, sharp sound echoes still.

Shifting stacks of boulders test my skill,
patterned sand like scales of fish long dead.
Old cries echo in brown hills;
hear them: sharp sound echoes still.

Monday, April 20, 2009

HOT HOT HOT and a walk in the park

It has been a busy weekend. Social Security sent back the budget report I prepared and told me to do it again. I don't know why. I did my best. I never promised to be an accountant. It is a struggle for me to do anything at all with figures. However, I will take on the task again, and hope that this time they explain what I did wrong if they have gripes.
Yesterday I went to the Irvine Land Conservancy's writing workshop and hike in Irvine Park. I met the instructor in the shopping center across the street from Santiago Canyon Community College. She was not at all what I expected. Given that she had mentioned her grandchildren several times and the aches and pains she was experiencing, I expected a woman at least my age, probably older. But the woman who stood outside the $1.00 Bookstore was lean and blonde, looking no older than perhaps mid-forties, if that. Actually, it was difficult to tell her age at all. Her skin was virtually unlined, though some tell-tale puckers on the upper lip suggested middle-age. I knew who she was because she wore a khaki uniform bearing the insignia of the Irvine Land Conservancy.
Though there had been about 10 people at the first workshop, only five of us showed up this time, counting the instructor, and two of these (actually 3, if you count the woman from the Laguna Land Conservancy) were docents for the Land Conservancy.
We drove through Irvine Park, where families frolicked among the oaks and sycamores and passed through a gate to land where very few people are permitted to go, after a brief stop where we did a quick-write about our expectations for the hike. I said that I expected to see the bones of at least one animal, among other things. The workshop was pretty basic. The instructor went over the basics of diction and gave us a handout of quotations culled from the Internet. I was not sure what to say in answer to her questions. I didn't want to say nothing, given the small number of people there, but I could obviously not pretend that this was new to me.
The hike was more successful. We walked over an ancient creekbed that crackled under our feet. A golden eagle circled above, its cry echoing in the hot dry air. Then, after walking for maybe half an hour, we settled down to write again in a field of grass. I had brought a towel to sit on. Though I was obviously the least equipped to deal with the outdoors as far as experience and hardiness go, I held my own, except for the damp riverbed where bees sipped mud. That was my limit.
We'll see how it goes next week.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Workshop Update

We had a ball last night in workshop. We started out discussing villanelles and sestinas, studying "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night" (Dylan Thomas), a villanelle, and Pound's "Altaforte," a sestina. Then I asked the class whether they wanted to write a collective sestina with words we chose as a group or a villanelle, individually. They chose sestina. The resulting poem was not wonderful and made little sense (though it had its moments) but we really laughed and felt close. I think we all learned a lot about the form. Then I gave an assignment to take the resulting sestina and turn it into some kind of better poem, though not necessarily a sestina. It will be an interesting challenge. Next weeks homages, odes, and blues poems.
I will be putting up the UCI Arboratum slide show when I have more time, which one of my students, Roxanne, kindly made for us.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"July Ghost"

Yesterday I was reading a story by A.S. Byatt for my summer Writing 1 class, "July Ghost." I am calling the class "Haunted," and focusing on people who are either being literally haunted (or think they are) or are simply obsessed. The first text and paper will be about the Byatt story, which I read for the first time a few days ago. It really stays with you.

In this story, which is set in London, a man is telling an American woman in a party about how he needs to move out of the apartment he lives in. He has gotten caught up in his landlady's tragedy, and things have become too awkward to stay around. The story is framed by this device of story-telling, but, intriguingly, it also has an omniscient narrator who also informs us of what the man isn't telling the American woman and filling in the blanks that the man leaves deliberately in his telling of the story.

For this telling curiously echoes an earlier one, when the man (unnamed in the text) told his present landlady a similar story about wanting to move out of the place he was living in with his girlfriend or wife, who had packed up without a word and left him, with no warning at all, or so he says. That landlady, Imogen, lives in a rather too-large house on the London commons with her journalist husband, who is usually not around. The house seems attractive to the man (I'll just call him "the lodger") because of its garden, where he ends up spending much of his time.
He seems to be a graduate student in literature, or perhaps a junior professor, who spends time writing papers about modern poets out in the garden, and Imogen too, he speculates, is an academic type, but he doesn't know what kind and never asks her, even though he has become quite intimate with her, listening in on her marital quarrels and learning something of her history.
Imogen has lost her young son, who was killed some time in the past when he was hit by a car out in the Commons, and his former friends still climb over the garden wall as if they own the place. So the Lodger is not surprised when he sees a young boy sitting in the tree in the garden, whom he describes in detail. Though this is of course the ghost of the title, there is little of the dark or spooky about him. He is sunny and more present than his mother, even responding with nods and smiles to the questions the Lodger poses to him.
He also seems to communicate with the Lodger telepathically, communicating the idea that he wants to get through to his mother, but she, frozen in time by the shock of his death, and absolutely rigidly rational, cannot allow herself to be receptive to the possibility of such a vision or of the continuance of life in any form, life before death or after it.
Since the husband has left, frustrated by the impossibility of continuing a relationship with a person so immured in "rigor mortis," as the Lodger describes it, the Lodger is the only available man capable of making Imogen pregnant, so that the soul of her son can slip into the new child, and he tries, but cannot, as he says "get through" any more than her husband could, though the woman also feels that this is what the child would want.
So he finds himself talking to another, American woman about wanting to move out of his place, and feeling that this meeting will also be followed by a change in venue and a new relationship. Yet the child, so much more present than anyone else in the story, is still there, and there is, it seems, a possibility that he will not let the Lodger go until he gets what he wants.
The story ends inconclusively, with the reader unsure of what the Lodger will do and whether he will move or manage to "get through" to Imogen at some future time.
The story is interesting not just for its plot, but for the way it works against the conventions of the gothic. The house is haunted, yes, but the haunting is by far the greatest sign of life in the house. The living people are mostly shells, haunted by loss, and unable to avail themselves of life--far less so apparently than the dead child.
It is interesting too for its mode of telling, the frame of the conversation at the party, the double of another conversation the Lodger has had, as well as its omniscient narrator, who slips in and out of his consciousness like a ghost, amending the "bowlderized" narrative he feeds his listener for the reader.
In my usual way, I want to ask the students why they think the story has been told in this way, rather than directly, through the perspective of the Lodger. Perhaps we are to distrust the Lodger, and doubt whether the ghost really appeared at all. Or perhaps??? It will be an interesting thing to examine with the class.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Jeremy, All Grown Up (well mostly)

I had a nice talk with Jeremy today. He has a lot of insight into himself and others, despite the fact that he is 18 and still doesn't see the world outside himself and his immediate surroundings all that clearly yet.
He is concerned, as we have been, with what he would like to do in his future. It has become clear to him, I think, that it is not going to involve much further academic study, at least not for the moment. He is unwilling to request the disabled student services he is eligible for and needs to do well in academic classes. So that is that, for the moment. He will try to finish his AA, and then we will see. He clearly does not want to go on working at the market, though it is not a bad job, and he does okay at it. It is just that he wants to make more money, of course, and to do something more interesting that will take advantage of his strengths.
Those strengths as he sees it (and as I also see it) involve something to do with children. I have always felt he should be a kindergarten teacher, but he doesn't feel comfortable with that. He would rather be, as he says, "a big brother sort 0f person." He could work at a childcare center or recreation program, and that would suit him. The career test he took in high school recommended that he be a "toy design psychologist." I should look into that, but probably it will require too much academic study to suit him. Working in a childcare center wouldn't pay any better than his current job, though I don't think it would pay any less either, and he might eventually be inspired to go back to school and learn more.
I am glad he is thinking about this, and perhaps he will reconsider taking help from DS&P at some time in the future, if he has a goal in mind.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thursday's workshop

In recent weeks, the workshop has been hammering away at metrics and formed verse. It is a tough thing to teach, but I have an ideal group, very patient with the technicalities. They have borne up well under a discussion of metrics, aided by a reading of Pinsky's wonderful book on the subject, which is far less didactic and pedantic than most treatments. They are less patient with the many samples I have brought in, and minutely examined.
But we have just had a wonderful experience with the sonnet. After looking at a few (very few examples of sonnets, including a wonderful recent one call "Why Did The" that does a wonderful turn on the chicken crossing the road (Google it), they took a list of words I came up with in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet and wrote some poems in class that were at times amazingly accomplished. One student even said that he heard or felt the persona of a non-existent historian speaking over the bedside of a burned son. When you hear things like that, you can understand the old chestnut about the Muse, dictating verse into the poet's ear as he notes it down as fast as possible.
Next week we are looking at more elaborate forms, particularly the sestina. I have never tried to write one of those because my mathmatical skill is nonexistent and I stink at puzzles. But I came across something that might help: a template in Excel, or how to build one. I include the link below for anyone who wants to try it:
To give an example of a sestina, and there are many many fine ones, I have settled on Pound's "Altaforte." Some people feel that Pound should not be taught because he was a Fascist, but I do not believe in censorship under any circumstances. And besides, although he was an old coot, a nut, and an anti-semite, Pound was the one person who published my great-uncle, Isaac Rosenberg's opus, "Break of Day in the Trenches," when Pound was editor of Poetry magazine.
Even though he called Rosenberg "that little Jew," I still give him his due for publishing it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Birkat Ha-Chammah (sp?)--birthday of the sun

Yesterday morning at 6:30 AM in Laguna Beach, my congregation met to celebrate a holiday I knew nothing about. It is called Birkat Ha-Chammah, blessing of the sun, and it is celebrated every 28 years. The holiday commemorates the day that the sun was supposed to have been created. According to Genesis (and no, I don't literally believe this account; nor does anyone in my community), the sun was created on the 4th day of creation, a Weds., if you say that Sunday is the first day of the week and Saturday the last, which Jews do. So every time this holiday is celebrated, it is on a Weds. It's every 28 years because the idea is to accumulate a week of years before you celebrate it again (7x4=28)... those guys and their numerology!
The holiday has been traced quite specifically to a particular person at the end of the 15th century, who declared that from this time forward, every 28 years, the holiday should be celebrated. I do not remember the person's name, but I think it was in Spain, just before the Jews were expelled. So perhaps the times called for every kind of desperate measure and innovative form of worship they could create.
I can tell you that this was a terrific experience. The congregation, or at least about 70-100 of us, gathered together by the ocean to watch the sun come up and learn about this "new" holiday--new to us, anyhow. We celebrated the occasion with a carefully chosen set of poems by poets like E.E. Cummings, David Ignatow, and others, and sang songs by the Beatles ("Here Comes the Sun," during which the sun graced us with its actual appearance!) and Cat Stevens' "Blackbird" in addition to the regular prayers and songs included in a service. The time flew by, and we were all entranced by the idea of the holiday and the sounds, smells, and sights of the ocean around us. It made up for the idea that this was going to be a long day, when many of us would be preparing seders for the evening to come and even those of us who would be merely guests (like myself) had many hours of wakefulness and hunger ahead. At the end of the service, we signed our names to forms that were placed in a time capsule to be opened 28 years hence and shared our breakfasts with each other. I brought a big container of fruit salad that included gigantic marionberries, the size of a giant's thumb, which were as sweet as they appeared (something that happens very seldom). Great way to start the morning!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Silly stuff

Today I have ruined a perfectly beautiful day with silly stuff. After class today, a particularly fruitful class that did not require much work on my part but more on my students' parts, I went looking for a ghost story by A.S. Byatt, "July Ghost," published in 1987, and thereafter in many anthologies, for a class I am teaching this summer (in a few weeks!). I couldn't find it, despite hitting up the Internet and three libraries.
Then I wrote a letter to the county to tell them my dad cannot serve on a jury. Imagine that! Of course, he would love to, but who is going to sit there and help him? Not me! I hope they do not give me any trouble. In my experience, they're pretty flexible. They gave me years of exemptions when my son was small. I served for the first time a couple of years ago, and found it very interesting indeed, but who can carve out time for it in a life like mine?
Jeremy tells me he would claim insanity or rabid opinions to keep off a jury. It of course irritated me, but I should have known better than to say so. He only says these things to piss me off.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Non Sequitor

Today I took my father to Costco to the pharmacy to pick up some ointment for that rash. While we were waiting, we did some shopping and noshing the samples. I asked one of the people who were giving out samples if there was any lox. She said she thought it would be against the wall with hardware. I just looked at her, not of course thinking "locks"--she never heard of lox, and neither had the others working in the store. When I finally found a big hunk of the stuff, I held it up, and showed the person. She said, "OHHH! That's smoked salmon at Costco." Of course, if you'd been to a deli, you would know that "smoked salmon" is something else altogether, but I guess, strictly speaking, that's true. Talk about interpretive communities!

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Busy Sunday

Today I went to Denise's shoulder workshop because of the pain I have been having in my upper right arm and shoulder blade. It really helped. I was supposed to meet the teacher of that workshop/hiking group and go on a hike in which we would learn about native flora and fauna and write about them. I left early, and drove down the unfamiliar, motorcycle-laden road where the group was going, passing some of Reb's haunting grounds, such as her son's school. Cars lined up behind me, looking pissed off and impatient in the rear view mirror, driving way too close to me for my comfort. I don't go zooming down roads, especially when they wind precariously and I am unfamiliar with them. In addition of course, I was looking for something, which I never did find. I finally pulled over, to the relief of about 6 drivers who followed close on my heels, and called the teacher's cell phone. She wasn't available. Too bad, because she might have given me directions, but I turned around and went home. I was nervous, thinking that I must have taken a wrong road because it took a really long time to get back to a familiar road and start home.
At this moment, I am happily home for the evening, and hope to turn in relatively early. Tomorrow is another busy day, with another medical appt. for dad and choir practice in the evening.

Friday, April 3, 2009

parental experiences

On Weds., I took my mom in for a cat scan. For those who have never experienced such a scan or do not have a clear idea how it works, the person being scanned reclines on a table and is passed through a sort of tunnel that scans the parts of the body being targeted. It is rather like a car in an automatic carwash.
The scan was just a precaution because about 6 months ago, when my mom last saw her oncologist, she had stomach pains for no discernable reason. Since she at one time had a tumor in her abdomen, though blood work suggests it is no longer there, the doctor wanted to scan her, even though since that last appointment she has gained weight and does not have stomach pain anymore.
Orginally, I was supposed to take her to the doctor at about 6:30 AM for an 8 AM appt., but the doctor's office changed it to 1:45. Thank goodness for that! I got in a little more sleep and even a yoga class! But as usual, it took over an hour to get to Hoag and then we had to wait our turn for the scan.
I was a bit nervous about how mom would respond to the process. It isn't easy; she had to put her arm over her head (not easy for a 92 year old person) and keep the other arm at an awkward angle too, with an IV in it. But she was a great patient, as usual. Even though she forgets each time why she goes to this doctor, she takes it all rather well.
Meanwhile, my dad went to UCI to the urologist, where he had a procedure in which a camera was pushed up his urethra. He had no visible problems that might be blocking his urine, so the doc just put the catheter back and sent him home. He has a skin infection on his ankle which isn't getting better because he keeps scratching it. Plus, the others at the house keep taking his Neosporin so he has none left. I keep buying it; it disappears in a day. He has an appt with a dermatologist for Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The plate

I should mention that the plate in the picture has all the traditional parts of the seder plate--the roasted shankbone, representative of the burnt offering (the paschal lamb) from the old temple, the bitter herbs, the roasted egg (spring and fertility), the charoset, and in the middle of all this ancient stuff, an orange. The orange got there because some smug rabbi or other once said, "A woman belongs on the bimah [the stage in the synagogue, where the Torah is kept] like an orange belongs on a seder plate!" That was all Jewish women had to hear; from that time onwards, we put an orange on the plate to declare our defiance of that attitude.

Model Seder

Next Weds. and Thursday night are the first nights of Passover, my favorite holiday, a time when families are supposed to hold ritual dinners, called Seders. The word "seder" means "order," and refers to the organization of the prayers and practices associated with the holiday. The dinner, its foods, songs, and rituals replay the Exodus of the ancient Hebrews in the desert when he emerged from slavery in Egypt, a country which is called in the Torah "the narrow place."
Because of my current circumstances, being the only member of my extended Jewish family (aside from my parents) out on the west coast, I have not had a family seder to go to, and if I want one, I have to do it myself. But it is a lot of work, and I fear I do not have the energy to make one, especially when my husband and son really want no part of it, though they would come if I made them. Plus, I do not have a decent table or dishes or anything like that to host a dinner.
My mother also has no interest in it, and doesn't want to attend the choir's seder, on the sixth night of Passover. So I attended a model seder held by a class at the synagogue for people who want to learn more about Jewish customs and holidays. The woman who teaches it is wonderful, full of energy and ideas. She commonly invites the Torah group I am a part of to her holiday demonstrations, and frequently brings in food (a very Jewish thing to do!). Since I like to cook and to eat, I always come, and the group has come to look forward to the dishes I bring.
Last night I made one of the ingredients of the seder plate: charoset. Charoset represents the mortar between the bricks of the pyramids the Jewish slaves laid down. It is a reminder that we were once slaves.
It is interesting that this idea is a central part of Judaism. I cannot think of any other faith that bids its members to recall that they were once slaves, and not to forget it. I admire that, and it is one of the things that inspired me to teach a class in modern slavery, so every one of my students are aware of the existence of slavery in today's world, so they can tell others and perhaps do something about it.
In any case, Ashkanizic charoset is traditionally made out of apples and walnuts mixed with wine and ground to a paste, a bit of cinnamon sweetening the mixture. But it can be made out of almost any fruit and/or nut. I fixed a seven fruit one from Surinam, containing coconut (shredded), dried apples, dried apricots, prunes, raisins, crushed walnuts, and cherry jam, along with a bit of pomegranite/blueberry juice. I was supposed to put in kosher wine, but I didn't have any;hence the juice. It was ugly but delicious, especially eaten with the other traditional foods, horseradish, parsley, lettuce, and the dishes people brought to the dinner, such as brisket, chicken, chopped liver, and kugel, which is a dish that can be made from any vegetable or grain, except that during Passover, one cannot eat grains or flour. So it's generally made of matzo farfel or potatoes and lots of eggs or apples. The noodle kugels, heavy as a bowling bowl, and full of raisins, pineapple, farmer's cheese, eggs, etc., eaten at other times of the year are out. I don't eat them anyhow because I hate cheese of any kind. But these kugels, and the ones I sometimes make out of vegetables like broccoli or eggplant, are also very tasty, and a welcome reprieve from potatoes. One gets very sick of potatoes at Passover because of the dearth of carbs--no rice, no bread (except matzo), no noodles. What's an eater to do?
Anyway, what prompted this post was that I was feeling very sad and sorry for myself because I wanted to go to a seder next Weds. night, but I didn't have one to go to. Going to the model seder really made it all okay. I had my community, my seder, my celebration. So what if the holiday hadn't really started yet? And on the 6th night, I'll go to the choir seder, so it's all okay.

Is anyone out there?

I am beginning to wonder whether anyone is reading these posts. If you are lurking, please drop a word or two to let me know you are reading them. I would appreciate it.