Sunday, May 31, 2009

Shoes again?

I've written before about the agonizing sojourns I've taken into the wilds of suburbia to get my mother shoes. She and I wear the same impossible to find size (5), and both have sore sensitive feet from wearing shoes that don't fit right. So I again ventured out to seek some footwear for myself. Though I know what size I wear and am not likely to claim the shoes are too big or too small as my mom does (she does the same with clothes these days), the search was fruitless, except for a pair I ordered off ebay. I hope they arrive okay and that they fit. It is difficult to say whether they will or not.
I can go years without finding suitable shoes that I am can buy, and then, generally, I find a slew of them, and if they are affordable, buy all of them. I have to since I don't know when I will next be able to find any.
It doesn't make sense to me that shoe manufacturers don't produce more shoes in my size. There are evidently quite a few people who wear 5s, including a number of teenagers and adults from Asian countries. Whenever the stores get a few pair of 5s, they disappear right away, unless they are obscenely expensive or otherwise impractical.
It's annoying being invisible.

Friday, May 29, 2009

To the doctor again

I just got home about an hour ago after spending the afternoon in the doctor's office with my parents. My dad called me last night, irritable and unwell. He said that his right leg, the side that was affected by his stroke, was acting up, feeling like, in his words, it wasn't his leg at all or wasn't there. It was dragging behind him. And it bothered him at night. His bladder was also feeling pressure, even though he's catherized. So knowing that he has had an infection just about every month since he had the foley put in and that it might be another stroke, I called the doctor's office, though it was already about 5:00 PM, and made an appointment for today with the nurse practitioner.
I picked them up at the Center in Orange, and sure enough, dad's leg was dragging along behind him. He was slower than usual, and looked pained. And, it turned out, he had very high blood pressure, although his caregiver said that this morning it was perfect.
So we had to sit for hours in the doctor's office awaiting the results of his blood tests, which the nurse practitioner was almost sure would show a bladder infection. There was nothing definite, but something seemed up, some kind of infection, so she gave him a prescription, and sent us home. It was 5:00 by then. We were freezing, tired, hungry, and bored, and I had yet to pick up the prescription and drive them home.
I was supposed to sing tonight in synagogue, but needless to say, I didn't make it.

Special Request

At Candice's request, I will post my latest poem, post-wilderness workshop, on the wild parrots that frequent these parts. It was in part inspired by my own sightings (abetted by a bit of online research) and in part is a response to my blog-sister Lou's post on her own blog about a wild parrot (complete with photo!) a while back.

In the Queen Palm's swaying crown
or heavy on the pine boughs
I always hear before I see them
the wild green parrots from elsewhere.
Then only in an odd flash of bright
wings, like a sunset trick of light.
No ordinary flock, but remnants
my mother's mismatched teacups.
They gawk in groups, like tourists
nothing in common but being
out of place. Somehow
they find familiar trees:
the bulbous silk tree, clad in clouds
of silver fluff, the calm magnolia
with its lacquered leaves--those
other denizens of elsewhere--
and eat their tender fruits and seeds.
I hear the raucous calls and know
that life will thrive: moss
between the sidewalk cracks
or tree of heaven growing
spindly through the sewer grate.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Another reading at Casa Romantica

Last night, my former student and regular follower of this blog, Candice, drove me and another friend over to Casa Romantica for a poetry reading by Kate Durbin and Tony Barnstone. I was not familiar with either writer, though once Barnstone began reading, I realized I had seen his books around. It would be hard not to, I think, since there are so many of them, and all of them are full of wonderful creative energy. Besides books of poems in all kinds of forms and on all sorts of topics, such as book of double sonnets based on Tarot cards and a novel in verse, he also writes translations from Chinese verse. He could have gone on all night, quite willingly, I think, and all of use would have willingly gone along for the ride--at least I would have. His work was wonderful, funny, various, and his reading style congenial. I very much enjoyed getting to know a little about his oeuvre.
Kate Durban didn't have a book yet. Two--a chapbook and a full book of poetry--are going to come out soon though. She read the entire chapbook, written from the pov of Amelia Earhardt on her final flight, and it was terrific. But her presence was as striking as the work itself. She wore a long shirtwaist dress of black and white (I can't really remember whether it was narrow stripes or a small print), ruched in the front, and made up otherwise of tiny pleats. As she read, subtle sparkles caught the light. The dress had a wide, rounded satin collar, rather like a Pilgrim shirt. Her hair is white and cut somewhere between an asymmetrical 20s or 60s bob with bangs (imagine a blonde Louise Brooks) and a little Dutch boy look. Her red red lipstick and nail polish caught the eye in the semi-dusk of the room like the wavering flame of a lighted sconce.
I am sure we will hear more about her. It always helps for a poet to be beautiful, and she surely is, as well as being a very gifted young writer.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Another thing about Exodus

The most interesting thing really about the chapter of Exodus we read was that Moses is beginning to get a big head. At first, when God wants him to be God's spokesperson, Moses says no. He defers to his brother Aaron. But now, Aaron is nary to be seen up there on the mountain, and Moses handles everything on his own, at least until his father-in-law (the foreigner), Jethro, gives him advice to deligate some of the responsibility, essentially creating a court system that would be familiar to us even today. Most strikingly, and this disturbs the Rabbis too, when God gives instructions to Moses about how the people are to prepare themselves for the giving of the law, God says only that the people should make themselves clean and stay away from the mountain.
Moses translates this as "Stay away from women." This is startling because first of all, it isn't what God said, and second, it means he is just talking to men, when God asks him to assemble all the people. That would be a kind of explanation of sexism in the culture, and an indication that it doesn't come from the law itself, but from male egotism in the culture.
Given what a sexist tradition this is, that is something to consider.

Torah Time

Last night the Torah group met. We discussed the place in Exodus in which the Ten Commandments first appears. I learned from our instructor that the Ten Commandments are presented differently depending upon what denomination you're talking about. This isn't just about translation, but about where the sentences end, and what they say, as well as how many commandments there actually are.
The original Hebrew text has no vowels and no punctuation. Therefore, it is always a matter of interpretation just to make sense of it at all. When one reads the Torah aloud, as I did in my bat mitzvah about 5 years ago, s/he sings the text, in a system called trope. Though there are no vowels, the text includes "musical" markings that tell the reader what notes to sing.
We spent some time discussing the dictum that the Hebrew people should "have no God before [Adonai]." I noted that it didn't say that Adonai was the only God; indeed, it is plain in many instances, including the Golden Calf debacle and Rachel's stealing of her father's idols that these people were not monotheists. However, they viewed their God as the most powerful of many. That God was the only one that was not localized, linked to a given natural phenomenon, such as sun, wind, water. Rather, part of what gave God power was that s/he could not be visualized or limited. In fact, that's one of the commandments.
But I think that we do not really understand polytheism--then or now. When I speak to Hindus, they tell me that they believe, like the people of Genesis and Exodus, in a God who rules over the pantheon of minor gods, and that these minor figures are aspects of that larger God. So what is the difference between so-called polytheism and monotheism if that is the case? I would like to know more about this.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

First day of class

This semester, I am teaching Writing 1. I wanted to do that because the students I was getting in Writing 2 were mostly unprepared for the class. I wanted to be sure that these students would have experience in writing textual analysis, using quotations, etc. Those students mostly didn't, or so it seemed, though all but a few had taken the prerequisite at this college.
The theme this semester is Hauntings. It is a variation on the Obsession class I taught a few years ago. We'll be reading and writing about that A.S. Byatt story I talked about earlier, "The July Ghost," Hitchcock's film Vertigo, and The Turn of the Screw. Students have a hard time with James, but I think they'll be ready for him by the time we get there because the techniques and themes will be familiar, if not the diction and syntax.
From what I see so far in the diagnostics, the students have no experience in using quotations from a text in their writing, but then I have only looked at 4 or 5 of them so far. They are vague and unspecific. This class should help address those problems.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Dad despite himself

Today I picked my parents up after yoga, intending to take them out to eat Mongolian BBQ in Mission Viejo. When we got down to Marguerite Ave., where we had to turn right, he insisted that I should turn left, and continued insisting it.
You should know that my dad has always had a fabulous sense of direction. He memorizes locations, and can tell the bus driver how to get to his destination, if it's a new bus driver. In fact, he has done that before, though now that he's old, the bus drivers won't listen to him, and have insisted on letting elderly and handicapped people off in the wrong places, helpless. That scares me, of course, but I have always felt safe trusting that my dad wouldn't get off if he were in the wrong place, and insisted in fact that the bus driver take them straight home. Afterwards, he called up the bus company and told them off for endangering the riders, many of whom are mentally incapacitated.
But today, he was really confused, and he stayed confused. We found out that the bbq was closed, perhaps closed every Sunday or maybe permanently closed. I didn't get out of the car to look, and instead went down to Moulton and took them to the kosher deli. Then again he insisted that the deli was only a couple of miles away. It wasn't, which I knew. It was maybe 10 miles away... perhaps a little less. And again he was really upset because his mind was betraying him, and I began to worry just a little too.
Meanwhile, my stomach went haywire, and I had to flee into the deli's bathroom immediately upon getting there, without helping them out of the car. My dad forgot to put the brakes on his walker, and it rolled away, while I was in the bathroom being rather ill. Someone ran out of the deli and retrieved the walker from him, otherwise,, he might have fallen and injured himself. Then we went to Steinmart. He said he would stay at the front on the bench they have there. But it was already full of unwilling males. So I guess he went to the bathroom. I went into the men's room and called for him, but no one answered, so I was dragging my mom around searching for him, calling, and asking all the clerks in the store if they had seen him. None had.
Finally, one of the guys who works in the store went into the bathroom and found him coming out.
What a day.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Playing at Life

Today R. and I went to see the play Collected Stories at SCR. The play is about a well-known fiction writer who teaches graduate students in a writing program at Barnard College. One of her students, who is promising, gifted, but very insecure, attaches herself to the teacher, who is not young anymore and has a lonely isolated life. The girl sort of moves into this woman's life, becomes her assistant, and practically an adopted daughter, taking everything she can get from the teacher in the way of advice and assistance, then betrays her.
It's kind of close to the bone for us, as teachers, writers, and former young, promising students of writers we admired and relied on. We had a good conversation about the unspoken rules of having a relationship with another writer or a teacher. And there are rules, though they aren't as consciously part of the legal and social furniture as with therapists or doctors. It's always a dicey business breaking down barriers with your social superiors or those who have some kind of power over you in their official capacities, or, if you are on the other side of it, allowing those barriers to be taken down, dropping the mask and becoming merely another human being with your students or clients or patients. Both parties are vulnerable, as this play makes very clear.
The play was also impressive in that it includes pieces of the student's writing, which are just good enough to be convincing and convincing in their unevenness also.
If you have a chance to see the play, I recommend it.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Colson Whitehead

Last night, I was about to go to Ron Carlson's reading at UCI when I got a call from R, who was still on campus. "Don't come to the reading," he said. "There's a guy on campus with a gun. The swat teams are out. Stay home!"
He didn't have to argue; I didn't go to the reading. But I did make it to campus tonight to hear Colson Whitehead read from his novel Sag Harbor. I hadn't really read any of his work before, though I'd picked up one of his novels in the library and even taken it home, intrigued by the concept of a black female elevator inspector who discerned the problems with elevators by intuition rather than by deep knowledge of engineering. But I didn't finish it. However, this reading was very appealing.
Whitehead's language spins circles around the subjects he is writing about, sending out tendrils so intricate that you forget about the ostensible topic and just enjoy the sentence in its own right. He's funny and clever and pays attention to things, so I am looking forward to reading one of his books, which I will be doing soon. He drew a hilarious "visual aid" to instruct the audience about 70speak of young black males like the characters in his book. There was the "in verb" construction, centering on a verb ending in in' (lookin, for instance) and the suffixes and prefixes of this verb, such as Gorbachov-lookin-bitch, to describe someone with a large and distracting facial marking. There were a million laughs in this reading, which is all too rare, and I loved it.
And I got to take Michele Latiolais aside and tell her how much I have loved reading her book, A Proper Knowledge. If you haven't seen it, go and look at it. Marly, you especially would love it, I think, since the main character is a child psychiatrist who treats patients in the autistic spectrum. I didn't want to finish it; I liked it that much.
It was a wonderful evening, and they even fed us! Wow!

I think it's ready now...

Here's a poem from the last hike, which I've written about below. I think I am ready to leave it up now. It's a sonnet, and I find this rhyme scheme more challenging than most.
Last Hike

In a dusty canyon with no name
waves wild grasses' green-gold tide
where daylight shadow shrinks and hides
and every rock proclaims "I am."

Here, where lightning burned an oak to ash
the trapdoor spider lurks, and we six,
promised something special, fix
our eyes on that far point beyond the wash.

Just read the rocks: an ancient river ran here,
sign that soon the old trail takes a turn"
the sound of water and a wall of ferns--
despite our fears, unexpected orchids do appear.

Screwing Up

Every time I screw up, I think that now I understand this particular pattern and will watch for it, prevent it from happening again. For example, I know that I've run away from things I really would want or enjoy a number of times out of fear. I almost turned down the workshop at the college for this very reason, and I've said no to jobs at Hollins and elsewhere that I wish I would have taken.
In fact, from the very beginning, this is the way things have been. I must have been 17 or 18 when I was told that I should be a teacher, but I didn't think I wanted to be--not that I knew. I'd never done it. Once I did it, I realized that was what I wanted. But I didn't take the first job I was offered, thinking I needed more education to be able to do it justice. And I turned down community college jobs when I first finished the PhD, only to learn that this is what I probably should be doing. I guess learning from experience is not generally as easy as it's supposed to be.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

End of Semester... Yes, and Beginning Too

I can hardly celebrate the end of this semester (or feel nostalgic about it) because next semester starts next Tuesday! It would be nice at least to have a week to think about it, but I get big research papers tomorrow morning and must have the grades in within the next couple of days. Better get started on next semester!!!

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dripping Springs--Last Walk on the Writing Side

Today was the last meeting of the Wilderness Workshop. It didn't start very auspiciously. Chatting vociferously, my workshop buddy and I missed the turnoff to Santiago Canyon Road and got to the meeting place at Augustine Station quite late, but luckily, the group was still there, minus the workshop leader, who had gone to be with her daughter, who was giving birth to her grandchild today. But it turned out to be a wonderful walk up the long canyon road, where we saw many new plants, such as farewell to spring, a small but lovely magenta flower, present in great numbers in this place, and fuschia flowering gooseberry, an attractive plant with little rosehip type "berries" hanging down underneath where the flower had been. But the most amazing thing after the long exhausting walk was Dripping Springs, a natural grotto like those you would imagine in Hawaii, where moss covered everything and ferns covered the rocks, along with a native orchid with a small relatively unflashy orange bloom, but quite lovely, once I finally spotted it.
Bob, the docent who knows about almost everything, told me that this part of the country has 47% of the world's diversity in plants and animals, which seems odd, given how dry it is, but after going out on a few walks with seemingly unending varieties of plant, insect, rocks, etc., I can begin to believe it.

New Wrinkle

A few nights ago, R., who has wanted to retire himself rather desparately, suggested that if there was indeed a full time position at the college to which I could apply, as a colleague recently suggested there might be, he would retire, take care of my parents as I have been doing, and I could work. I've been mulling this over. It's rather scary. I wonder how I would do with a full-time position, never really having had one. Would I be able to carry on my writing? My yoga? Without them, I could never really be happy or balanced. I suppose I would get used to it after a little while, and would be able to fit things back into my life. Also I wonder whether R. would be able to manage my parents. The last time he had to take dad to the hospital, he was really a wreck. I am kind of used to it, resigned. I don't think he's as strong as I am, but perhaps he would also get used to it. In any case, I should think about this. Perhaps the next time a job comes up, I will apply again. And it's pretty nice that he offered.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Time with the herd

Last night R. and I attended a retirement party for my colleague, Julie. She is such a sweet and positive presence in the department, and so important, since she works with students others do not know what to do with, those with learning and behavior problems. I sincerely hope someone who can at least partly fill her shoes soon is hired in the department; with funds being what they are, it concerns me.
The party was wonderful. I am not a party person, and this is only the second of the retirement parties I have attended for department folks. But it was fun and full of warmth for Julie from her colleagues and her family.
It was interesting to spend time with people I've only passed in the hall or briefly exchanged emails with and to sit down with people I chat with fitfully, in passing. And of course, to spend a little time in person with my virtual buddies, like Lou and Reb. It was nice to see Reb with her son, spending a little time together. Makes me nostalgic for Jeremy at that age... .

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dinner Out

My workshop had one last dinner together last night at Annapoorna. At least one of the students had never tried Indian food before, but let himself be guided by our sage advice. I think he enjoyed the experience. The menu is quite extensive; I didn't really have a good look at it last time because I just got the buffet. They don't do the buffet during the week, so I had a dosa. Unlike most of the places that I've been to, this one doesn't fold the dosa for you. They just give you a huge pancake, overflowing everywhere, and several sauces and other things to put in/on it. You've got to figure out for yourself how to manage it. It was fun. Everyone was sharing with everyone else, telling about their next adventures. There were trips on tap to Algeria and Australia, and one student was moving to Santa Monica with friends. At least a couple promised to send poems and keep in touch. One went to Yogurtland with me for dessert. That was fun too. I will miss them. Since I have not been given a workshop for the next year, I will look for opportunities elsewhere to teach one, perhaps at UCI Extension or Chapman.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Uh Oh!

When I give grades to my students in workshop, I see that I will have to fail one because she didn't drop the class when she stormed out, angry at me for criticizing her work, and I forgot to drop her. I feel bad about that. There was enough bad feeling there between us. I did tell students who stopped coming they should drop if they didn't want to come back, that it was their responsibility, but I usually drop people when they are gone a while. I didn't this time.


Lots of things are ending this weekend. Tonight I will have dinner at Annapoorna with my workshop folks, towards whom I feel great tenderness. I hate that I have to assign grades to their work, particularly the short essays about a poem I asked them to write without really taking much time at all to discuss them in class. They don't count a lot, but they are a gesture toward making this an "academic" class. Next time I teach a workshop, I will teach more critical writing to make this a more genuine part of the class. I may have to make the paper worth more though, if I do this.
Also the last hike of the wilderness workshop, a 4 hour affair, will be taking place on Sunday. I am looking forward to it, but feel a sort of dread at it ending. There is no reason I should not go on turning out poems, but the truth is, I love an audience, and there is not much opportunity to have one otherwise. I will just have to be better about seeking out opportunities to read and to send out work. And to put that book of poems together! The problem is that it will seem such a random collation of work right now. There are those formed poems, the beginning of something new and improved, I think. Do they belong with what I have written before? Should I give up most of those earlier poems and start fresh now, resigning myself to the idea that I will have to take a few years to make a collection (again)? Should I set those aside and make a collection out of the old stuff and start a new collection with this, with an eye to the future? Hard to say.
And then there's Julie's retirement party tomorrow night. I will miss her, and I can't imagine what the college will do without her. When she isn't there in the summer, that's when I get my autistic students, and have no one to send them to. What if no one replaces her? What will happen to those students now?
Spring is the ending of the school year, though I will go on teaching throughout the summer (the first time I have ever done it--usually I take one semester off). It is the time for this bitter-sweet saying goodbye, and being happy and sad. It's all part of the cycle.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Torah Group, Redux

Tonight the Torah group met, and we read and discussed the book Bo, or "Go!" which recounts the plagues and exodus out of Egypt. We discussed the figure of Moses and his parallel figure, Miriam, though Miriam is not much discussed in the Torah itself. She is a water figure, and in Hebrew apparently, her name too has something watery about it, arising from the root of the word "mayim," water. She was rumored to have a well that traveled with her wherever she and the Israelites went. Talk about traveling pants... a well was something even more impressive! When she died, the Israelites lost their water, and that's when Moses had to strike the rock, which got him in trouble with God.
Moses was another figure through which God acted. In the book after they left, when the Israelites were wandering in the desert, Moses not only struck the rock, as all along he had been enacting the plagues with the rod God told him to stretch out over the land of Egypt, and making the waters part, etc., but he used his hands to help Joshua overtake Amalek (though he needed a little propping up from his friends to keep that up after a while).
We discussed the cruelty of God's efforts to get the Israelites to marvel at his works, where he slaughters the Egyptians and repeatedly hardens Pharoah's heart just so he can overcome the Gods of Egypt and get everyone to fear him. The woman who always asks where the moral in these stories is merely shook her head. She's stopped looking for the morals, realizing they are in the interpretations of the stories rather than in the stories themselves.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Newsflash! Poem from Saturday's Wilderness Workshop

Here's the triolet I wrote after the workshop. A triolet is an 8 line form with a two line refrain that repeats a couple of times, as you see.

Astronomy Lesson
The Great Bear can barely be seen,
but has the same name everywhere.
Schooled stars align as in dreams,
yet the Great Bear can barely be seen.
Dark hills hang hungry and lean;
all we have is stories we can spare.
The Great Bear can barely be seen,
yet has the same name everywhere.


Last night, right before I was settling in to watch Number One Ladies' Detective Agency on HBO (a current enthusiasm, along with In Treatment), I checked my email and saw a missive from Marly. She tagged me, demanding that I list my 15 +1 favorite works of literature. I was given 15 minutes, and asked to pass it on, though I didn't notice how many people I was supposed to pass it along to.
As happens when one is given only a limited amount of time to come up with something, I had trouble coming up with 15 and some of them were just the writers' names, not particular books or works. I think these were the ones I came up with, in no particular order:
Tolstoi, Anna Karenina
Flaubert, Madame Bovary
Nabokov, Speak, Memory and Pale Fire
Carroll, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
I think I skipped this yesterday, but James, The Golden Bowl
poetry by Stevens, Bishop, Dickinson, Dylan Thomas, Frost, Blake (think I skipped that yesterday too).
Shakespeare, Hamlet
Dickens, Bleak House
Faulkner, either The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom
There are so many... who can choose? But now it's your turn!
Post it here, on your blog, on Facebook, wherever!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Moon Walk

Last night the wilderness writing workshop went on a walk to view the full moon, but we didn't see it during the walk itself. That is because first, we timed the walk wrong, thinking the moon would rise by 8, but it wasn't set to rise till 8:45, and then it had to make it over the canyon walls at Black Star. But it was a lovely evening.
First we held a little workshop at which we discussed a short piece of semi-fictional prose about the caretaker of the dam at Santiago Canyon. Then we discussed my sestina, which I am still in the process of revising. I explained what a sestina was and why I chose to write in that form (in any form, really) for people who knew little about poetry. Then people made a few good suggestions, based largely on correcting facts I had not quite gotten right in the poem.
Then we walked down the trail and chose a place to sit in our folding chairs in silence. I didn't write anything of note, but I am thinking about something about our star talk, which took place after we walked back to our starting point and settled to wait for the moon, which as I said, didn't arrive as planned. But in the meantime, Bob, the docent who had written the piece about the Dam Man, talked to us about constellations and individual stars and the speed of light and whether the universe is infinite. He told us that aboriginal people on both sides of the globe have the same name for the Great Bear. All delicious food for thought. Using a laser pointer, he traced out the constellations, naming plenty of stars I had never heard of. His laser pointer was like a stream of multi-colored particles, as you'd imagine Saturn's rings, only of course, much smaller.
As we drove out of the canyon, there was the moon, an extraordinary shade of burnt orange, like a chrysanthemum (sp) and more three dimensional in that black black sky full of stars than I had ever witnessed it.

Saturday, May 9, 2009


Just wanted to give you notice that my poem, "Taking Tea," has appeared in Caesura's special issue on food and culture, Spring 2009. The journal is published by the Poetry Center, San Jose. It was a poem I wrote for this submission call, which I saw in Reb's blog, The Mark on the Wall. I have a couple of other things still out that I haven't heard about, but got the poems back from the big guns, Poetry and Ploughshares. I'll definitely try again though.

Star Trek Mania

Last night, the newest in the franchise of Star Trek movies was released, and I expected mobs to attend the 7 PM show at Tustin Marketplace. So I did something I normally do not do: I bought tickets online, thinking that there would be hordes of babyboomers and others garbed like Vulcans and Klingons waiting impatiently in line. Instead, there was only one costumed person, in his garish gold Starfleet shirt and communicator button, straight out of the 70s and assorted people about my age with their kids and their kids. Not a full auditorium even; there had been at least 7 showings of the movie already that day.
The buzz was good. This was to be a prequel to the oldest of the Trek shows--with Spock, Kirk, and the others played by fresh young actors who did not (except perhaps in the case of Spock) look so much like the originals as act and sound like them. I liked the concept, and enjoyed the slender plot conceit. But as R. noted, wincing at the ugly and violent previews that played before the film, this was not really the same Star Trek we loved on t.v. or even in earlier films. Rather, it had succumbed to the blow-it-up school of movie science fiction that was actually a thinly garbed revenge fantasy about our real life "war on terror."
Although the dissonance of seeing the young actors with old names piqued my interest (and they really found some likely candidates to play these roles!), what was best about the show was always its ideas, its thoughtfulness... in other words, what is best about science fiction when it works. And that really wasn't here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Last Workshop, report

Last night we played in workshop. I was remembering an occasion when I was in graduate school at Hollins, in the MA program, and went to my teacher Richard Dillard's house. For some reason, as I recall, there were several of us. Perhaps it was the final meeting of a class, like mine last night, or maybe just a lark. But all we did was pull up markers and coloring books--the sophisticated kind, I think, of modern art or birds or something of that sort--and color for a few hours. We chatted while we did that, and I tried to stay within the lines (never easy for me). It was such a treat. Just pure relaxation, and so unexpected.
So in this class, I created the equivalent. I showed the students a document I had downloaded and put onto Blackboard for them. It was 11 pages of suggested poetry assignments so they could continue working on their own. Among the assignments were found poetry samples--"translations" from languages they did not know, where they tried to reproduce the sounds of the poems, not the meaning. We worked on Portugese, Swedish, and Rumanian poems and were rolling on the floor laughing at some of the results. It was very hard not to succumb to "real" translation when we thought we knew the meaning of words, and there were words we knew or thought we did. Sometimes we did succumb to this, but all the same, some hilarious wonderful lines came out. Here was one I did from Portuguese:
Save some pie!
Oh catch Benji, our burrows full of fuzz.
Cobras in armoires, come stoke the bellows, the vents.
Oh blue bones! Marinate our lurid cabbages,
so sure of frozen penguins in the silent water.
Oh two sorrel towels, left eternally roasting,
so like eyes, the nasty cables of the sun.
Junior barks in cold Chicago, in the brief air.
Junk in the castle haunts our passive Amos.

I didn't finish it, but you get the idea.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reading for myself

When I get to read for fun, I like to read a good mystery every once in a while, Ruth Rendell or P.D. James, especially. I just read James' latest, which I rented from the library. It is called The Private Patient. I like the odd and moody detective, the poet and Oxford-ite, Adam Daigleish. He threatens to retire in this book, but something always comes up, and he probably won't.
In the few books of hers I've read, there are multiple murders, committed by the same person, so it didn't surprise me when that happened here too. James seems to subscribe to the view that one corpse isn't enough to sustain the readers' interest, not when so many other mysteries abound in the market. And of course, there are always the red herrings, intriguing and interesting in their own right.
I can't claim to be a mystery afficianado (sp) really, but when I am stressed, they settle me. Something comes out right in the end, anyhow. That's a comfort, even if a bloody one.

Last workshop tonight

The semester is finally coming closer to an end. Tonight is the last real workshop... next week we will go out to eat together to celebrate the semester, and students will turn in their portfolios.
I have planned some fun and games for the class tonight--found poems of various kinds. There is only one poem that has been submitted to workshop, so it might be a short class. People are stressed and burned out. It's going around. I'll write tomorrow and let you know how it went.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Weir Canyon sestina

Here is the poem I wrote this week. As you can see, it isn't a narrative at all, but a sestina.
Weir Canyon Afternoon
The truck bumps along a dusty trail,
past hills and fields of mariposa lilies
the exact shade of the moon.
So much still to do and so little good
light left. A hive hums in the oak tree's hollow
and the bees cast crazy shadows.

A hummingbird small as a bee shadows
us; a lizard darts across the trail.
Here, bandits stashed their loot in hollow
rocks. Their bones, as bleached as lilies,
lie in fields gone gold with grain. Good
weather, but the mournful day-time moon

a lidded eye, hangs high above a moon-
white rock, where I perch in the cool shadow,
dreaming of too many good
bottles of whiskey, lying empty on the trail.
Clouds like giant lilies
arc across the canopy of sky, hollow

as the shafts of arrows, hollow
as a carcass, ribs sickled like the moon,
overgrown with lilies.
From the field of prickly pear flat with shadows,
small suns of monkey flower spill onto the trail,
and the bird tracks, like runes, sugest good

feeding must abound, good
protection for the nestlings in a hollow
cactus log, far back from the trail.
And all the while, the jaded moon
scowling in harsh daylight, seeks out shadows
hiding there among the lilies.

In their proper hour, the purple lilies
rise like a chalice, their good
thick stems swollen with shadows.
I sit in the rock's hollow
carved by wind and watch the moon,
as darkness creeps across the trail.

This is the time when hollow lilies,
purple as the dusk, find evening good, and the moon
at last, follows its nightly trail among the shadows.

Flogging the proverbial dead horse

It's the end of semester in all but name, and still the living dead, students without a prayer, toil away when the cause is already lost. I have a couple students like that, who I told from the very beginning that they needed to get remedial help fast from reading classes, etc. They didn't do that, but still they cannot understand why they are not doing well in the class.
Writing research papers requires not only research skills, which can be taught rather quickly, really, but also reading ability and the ability to follow up on tasks independently. These students are simply not ready to do this. Perhaps if they were simultaneously taking a critical reading class, that would help, but they chose not to do that. This, along with their woeful lack of preparation in analysis and writing in previous writing classes has done them in. But since at least one of these students received a very good grade in her college writing class, she blames me. She is trying; I am trying, but at the same time, I have known that it was probably not possible for her to pass this class in one semester for a long time. She didn't want to drop when I recommended it, and because I have so few students left, I have been trying to work with her independently as much as possible. Unfortunately, I just couldn't make up for those shortfalls. I am sure I will hear about this if she fails, which I am afraid looks inevitable right now.

Shopping Nightmare

Yesterday was a tough day. After yoga class and a doctor's appointment, I went to Target in Mission Viejo to shop for frozen food for Jeremy. He had been complaining that the stuff I was getting him was not what he would like to eat. Mostly, he wants to microwave his meals by himself. He has consistently turned down my offers to teach him to prepare food from scratch, so that is his only option.
Since the Target at that location has the largest selection of frozen food in the area, I went to that store and bought $60. worth of stuff, including much for Jeremy, in addition to cat litter and cleaning supplies. Then, on my way out to the car on the hot parking lot, I realized I did not have my keys.
Trying not to panic, I headed back for the store, my full cart wobbling and weaving, and retraced my steps. On my way, I asked every red-shirted employee I saw whether s/he had found my keys. No one had. Then I started to panic. Jeremy has lost his license, and R. was at work, without his car, unable to pick me up. If my keys were lost, AAA would not be able to do anything for me either.
I went back to the car and peered into the driver's side window; that's when I saw the keys, which had apparently fallen on the seat when I left the car. I called AAA and had to wait about 40 minutes for them to show up. Getting into the car once the truck arrived took all of about 40 seconds.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Another Sunday, Another Walk in the Parklands

Yesterday the hiking/writing workshop went out to the back country, this time in a jostling truck with seats installed into the pickup bed. It nearly shook my teeth out, so I can imagine how the instructor felt, since she had a broken rib from a fall at her house.
Though I haven't written anything usable as of this time, I found the landscape this time out extremely impressive. It was rather like being out in the desert with the ancients--I expected to see a burning bush at any second. However, I did see a glistening, seemingly endless trail of harvester ants, a behive swarming with bees inside a hollow trunk, a patch of opuntia cactus scattered with bright yellow sticky monkey flowers, a brace of quail hurrying out of the road in front of us, and some of the tiniest hummingbirds I've ever seen. We spent so much time traveling this session that we didn't have as much time as usual, and though the place had rich history (bandits, buried treasure, a stagecoach and trade route), I was more interested in the flora, fauna, and geological features this time out, despite the fact that we were asked to write a story. Although we saw evidence of human beings who had lived there once (grinding holes in a rock, for example), I didn't feel I knew enough about their lives to write a story, and to tell the truth, it is hard for me to make up a plot from scratch. It doesn't come naturally to me. With practice, I would probably learn to do it though.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sublimely ridiculous

This week in my workshop, we wrote parodies. Here's mine:
The Hive
I heard a Beehive in the wall--
When I was trying to Sleep.
Incessant Buzzing at hours
Precluded counting sheep.

My swollen eyes were red and sore
The Clock siad 2 AM--
I wished the Sun would break his bonds
Ushering Morning in.

I took a Hatchet from the hutch
and hefted it awhile.
Though it would make an awful mess
I'd end this thing in style.

The first stroke broke the paper cells
The second set Them free--
And now I'm wrapped up in the rug
And cannot see to See.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Val/Orson, Marly Youman's new book

My friend Marly Youmans has generously granted my request to read a review copy of her new work of fiction, Val/Orson, soon to be released from PS Press. It is a book that does not fit easily into any particular categories. Although it is set in a putative Northern California, a world of old growth giant sequoias, it is less a factual place than an alternative universe, where Merry Men still range the trees, fighting against the power of dark materialism, a place where doubles abound. It is prose, but lyrical as a poem, bearing a strong relation to Shakespeare's comedies. It is fantasy, but full of fact as well, particularly detail of the natural world. It is a work aimed at adults, but as full of wonder as any children's book we may have loved in our own youths and that we might wish to share with our own children.
The book tells the story of a young denizen of the woods, known as Val, a protector of the ancient forest who seems to have been born to climb these trees. He spends much of the book seeking his lost twin, whom he calls Orson, a wild child stolen at birth and found belatedly as an adult. The book is full of wonderful characters, and I detect nary a false thread in its intricate weave.
Though I have read a virtual copy of the book, I can see from the beautiful artwork of the cover and the fonts and graphics used throughout that this book is a thing of beauty to look at as well as to read. PS Press clearly respects its authors, judging by this book, and deserves our attention, particularly at a time when larger presses have abandoned the publication of works like this one, which cannot be easily pigeonholed.
Marly Youmans is an old friend, but I speak of this book not primarily as a friend but as a reader, recommending it to everyone who loves books and who wants to make a new literary acquaintance. This is a beautiful work.
Editions & how to order...Jacketed hardcover limited edition (200) A handsome cloth edition signed by Marly Youmans and the writer of the introduction, Catherynne M. Valente, with jacket image by Clive Hicks-Jenkins and interior by novelist-designer Robert Wexler. Click on the image above to see the jacket in full. A larger run is the unjacketed limited edition (500) signed by Marly.

Friday is market day

Today I paid my regular visit to the Laguna Hills Farmer's Market in the parking lot outside of Laguna Hills Mall. Despite the fact that I forgot to go to the bank to get some cash, I picked up some marinated fresh fish, which Jeremy and I immediately consumed when I got home, sauteed in the old iron skillet with hot fresh foccacio I baked and fresh torn chard salad with currants and toasted pine nuts in a vinagrette made of pomegranite vinegar and olive oil. Yum!
I wasn't that hungry, but Jeremy has to work this afternoon, and requested food. On Fridays he will usually eat what I make because he likes fresh fish, so I enjoy eating it with him.
Today was unusual because while I was scouting around the market, tasting the samples, as usual (though today the vendors were reserving their samples for serious customers, I noticed), I ran into Reb, also buying fresh fish for her family. We made the rounds together, although I was out of cash, since I was waiting for my friend Liz from yoga class to come.
Reb and I wondered if Lou were around, or if she had already long since visited and left earlier in the day. It's nice to see real people as well as visiting with them virtually, so today was an special pleasure!